Rex Ryan wants his players focused on football and Thomas Jones won't have any problems complying. TJ, who hadn't spoken publicly since the Jets' 2008 season ended, broke his code of silence this morning after the first practice of training camp.
"I'm with my team and I'm glad to be here," Jones told reporters inside a tent at SUNY Cortland Stadium. "I like Coach Ryan and what he's doing. Everyone up here is excited about the season, excited about the opportunity that we have. Today was a good start this morning and we look forward to going at it this afternoon and trying to have a better practice."
It was reported throughout the off-season that Jones was unhappy with his contract. He skipped a number of the Jets' voluntary practices in May, but has been present for all of the team's mandatory functions.
"I'm up here for football. I'm not going to answer any contract questions at all," he said. "It's football and I'm good with that. Any contract questions, I'm not going to even talk about those."
During a team meeting on Thursday night, Ryan actually mixed up Jones with another talented Jets' running back. Leon Washington, who practiced with his teammates Friday, didn't report on time and the rookie head coach made an honest mistake when addressing the situation.
"I said, 'We only have one guy that's not here and that's Thomas' for some reason while I was looking right at Thomas," Ryan said today with his trademark smile. "I just said his name. I said, 'To be honest, I'm a little surprised you're here after reading all of these reports.' But really he's ready to go." Over the past four seasons, Jones has been one of the most productive backs in all of football. He's averaged 1,244 yards a campaign over that period and his 1,312 yards last season led all AFC runners. The 5'10", 212-pounder also totaled a career-high 15 TDs (13 rushing, two receiving) after reaching the end zone just twice in 2007.
"I know I feel fresh and a lot of the guys feel fresh, so we're excited. Last year we had some success and at the end of the season we didn't come through when we needed to," he said. "In the off-season a lot of the guys were using that as motivation — I know I was when I was working out getting ready for now and the opportunity we have. We're all excited for the season and are happy to be here."
Consider Jones a forward thinker. The 10th-year pro, coming off his Pro Bowl season, has once again come to camp in amazing shape and he's happy to be back in a comfort zone with his teammates.
"The off-season is done. It's the season, so I'm focused on that," he said. "I have my own trainer down in Florida. I had a great off-season. I worked as hard as I could and I feel like I'm in great shape. I'm strong, fast and mentally ready to go. I'm just excited to be here at this point right now."
Last season the Green & White finished ninth in the NFL both in rushing yards (125.3) and points (25.3) per game. Every starter is back on an offensive line that might be the league's best and Jones, RB Leon Washington and FB Tony Richardson all return.
"We had a nice chemistry because all three of us can do good things especially at different times in the game, in different situations," Jones said. "We all have a role to play and we all play that role to the best of our ability. Sometimes when you have three backs or a backfield with talented guys, you have guys that want the ball more than that guy, but we don't have that situation. We have team players back there that want to win. We look at each other like brothers, like a family."
That family grew in April when the Jets moved up in the draft to select Iowa RB Shonn Greene in the third round. Someday Greene might replace Jones as a starter in the lineup, but TJ's not going anywhere soon. And you have to figure the more runners, the merrier, because Ryan wants to "ground and pound" and the Jets will have an unproven quarterback in September.
"I'm just taking it one day at a time. That's what I did last year and the year before that and the year before that," Jones said. "That's how I play my games. One day at a time, one week at a time. I just focus on one thing and make sure to perfect that as much as I can so that when Sunday comes, I'm ready to go in all aspects of my game."