If there's a professional athlete who's aged more gracefully than Jets running back Thomas Jones, you'll certainly have a hard time finding that person. Jones is about to enter his 10th pro season and the 5'10", 212-pounder promises to be better than ever.
"It's been a great camp. I've felt good," he told Randy Lange and me Wednesday during our latest Jets Radio broadcast, now available from the newyorkjets.comhome page. "Training camp obviously is an opportunity to get the kinks out and work on your timing and things like that, and I think I've been able to do that. Actually I've had a really good time. Usually I'm dreading training camp every year, but I was kind of looking forward to it this year, just getting back into the swing of things and getting back into football."
Well before TJ arrived in Cortland with his teammates, he was up to his old tricks down in Florida. Jones, whose trademark granite arms are a frequent talking point amongst fans here at SUNY Cortland, got after it and then some to get ready for 2009.
"I basically worked out six times a week. I would run at 9 actually for like two hours, a lot of speed and agility early in the week and then conditioning later on in the week," he said. "After the run on Mondays and Tuesdays, I would do a lot of upper-body stuff. Then mid- to the end of the week, I would do a lot of lower-body stuff, a lot of explosion drills."
Jones, the AFC's leading rusher in 2008 with 1,312 yards, pushed himself to the limit with the fall and the winter in mind.
"The end of the week was pretty much the hardest part because of the conditioning. We'd simulate that it was the end of the game," he said. "After every play, you'd get maybe a 10-second break and you'd have to go again, just trying to build on your conditioning."
Behind a makeshift offensive line Friday, Jones rushed nine times for 13 yards as the Jets opened up their preseason schedule with a 23-20 loss to the St. Louis Rams. He views the preseason as another step in preparation, a test drive before the 16-lap race begins Sept. 13 at Houston.
"I've carried the ball a lot in this league and there is preseason mode, regular-season mode and postseason mode. Anybody who's played in the postseason will tell you that," he said. "Preseason you're working to get your timing down and just getting back in the swing of things and getting back in game situations, simulating the situations you're going to have in the regular season. When the regular season starts, it's kind of like a switch comes on. Everything is for real, everything counts, every game is crucial, every play is crucial and every snap is crucial."
Jones, whose 7,815 yards rank 42nd in NFL history, has run for 4,976 yards over the past four seasons — only Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson (5,861 yards) has rushed for more. TJ's been madly productive and you know what you're going to get from him every week.
"I really believe in my preparation. Obviously God has blessed me, kept me healthy, and he gave me the will to do what I've had to do. I've had a lot of adversity I've had to overcome and God has blessed me by keeping me levelheaded and keeping me hungry. I do think I've definitely worked as hard as I can in the training room and the weightroom to maintain my body, cleaning up any type of injuries I may have had so I can be fresh for the next week. I watch a lot of film, so I'm prepared and I know what to expect on Sundays.
"I think there are a lot of different things mixed together that have helped me be successful over the past four, five years, and I'm definitely not going to stop those things now. Especially going into my 10th year, where I kind of feel that I'm in my prime now."
One of the most well-liked and most versatile figures in the Jets' locker room, Jones provides an emotional spark for his team. Growing up the son of coalminers in Big Stone Gap, Va., TJ is also a proud family man whose music production company, OuttaPocket Entertainment, is growing by leaps and bounds. A thinker who just happens to be a gladiator, Jones graduated from UVa in just three years with a degree in psychology and he told Randy and me that he's 15 credits short of his master's degree in education.
Since he doesn't talk to the media too often, Jones is often misunderstood. This is a proud dude who takes his craft seriously and really cares where he came from. Case in point: the Thomas Quinton Jones First Academic Scholarship at the UVa.
"I give money to every student from my area [Big Stone Gap is close to the Tennessee-Kentucky border] who is accepted to the University of Virginia. I give them money and depending on their grade-point average and whether or not they stay out of trouble, I give them a certain amount each semester to help them with their books and any other miscellaneous things that they need," he said.
"Right now I think we have 30 students going there on my scholarship, so I'm really excited about that. I'm always glad to try to help people who need help because I was at that point in my life at one time and I was blessed enough to have a full scholarship, and I try to take advantage of that."
The Jets are going to try to take advantage of Jones this season. Head coach Rex Ryan labeled him a "battering ram" and hopes he'll carry the ball 25, 30 times a game. Thomas Jones can carry the load and the Jets got great news today — he just got to add another candle to his cake.
Happy 31st birthday, TJ.