No Longer Lost in the Pack
GREEN BAY, Wis. — James Jones was driving home from Packers headquarters Wednesday evening, preparing himself for “practice No. 2,” with his two young sons. “When daddy gets home, it’s time to play tackle again,” he said, “so I’m just catching my breath.” Along the way, he stopped to pick up ice cream for the kids. Less than two weeks after being cut by the New York Giants, Jones is already settled back in Green Bay, with his wife, kids and the quarterback he’s caught passes from for the better part of a decade. After Jordy Nelson tore his ACL in the preseason, the Packers caught a break when one of Aaron Rodgers’ old favorite targets became available. Jones spent the 2014 season in Oakland and training camp in New York, but as his two-touchdown opening day performance last Sunday in Chicago proved, he’s picking up right where he left off back in Titletown.
VRENTAS: You had a great day Sunday. Some of the catches you made, it didn’t even look like you were open. Does that speak to the trust that exists between you and Aaron Rodgers?
JONES: Definitely. Me and him are communicating so much 24/7, whether it is on the practice field or off the practice field, in meetings and constantly during the game. He is a special quarterback; he is truly one of the best to ever do it. But I always tell him, it’s okay to throw it up every now and then and give us a chance to go get it. Because he is such a perfectionist, he wants every ball to be perfect. I tell him, God has blessed us with an ability, too, just like he has blessed you with one. Give us an opportunity to go up there and make a play. And when he does do that, you want to capitalize on it. When you make plays like that, all you do is gain trust from him. If you gain trust from your quarterback, he is going to keep coming back to you and believing that you are going to make a play for him.
VRENTAS: Your long history together probably gives him confidence to throw it to you even when you might be covered.
JONES: Most definitely. He showed a lot of confidence in me, and after every game, I always go up to him and tell him, ‘Man, I appreciate the opportunities to show my skills.’ There are so many talented people in our offense, for him to throw the ball up to me when I’m covered and give me opportunities like that, I appreciate it.
“In New York, I was just behind from Day 1—they already had the guys they wanted.”
VRENTAS: Is it simple enough to say you are stepping in to replace Jordy Nelson, or is it a little more complicated than that?
JONES: Number one, like I was saying to Randall Cobb, I’m just here to do my job. You don’t want to get into the, ‘I’m here to replace Jordy.’ Because you’re talking about a great player. Me and Jordy played together for seven years, and it’s always been the motto, do your job. If you get an opportunity, make a play. You never know how many opportunities you’re going to get, so when you a chance to make a play, make a play. And that’s all I try to do. Jordy is a great player, and I am just trying to capitalize on my opportunities.
VRENTAS: How much does an NFL playbook change in one year?
JONES: This one actually didn’t change that much, which was good. That’s why I tell people all the time that I truly believe the Lord sent me to the Giants for a reason because it wasn’t to make the team, it was to polish off all my skills. I was on my couch for a minute, and then I was able to go to the Giants, where the playbook is almost identical because Ben McAdoo was with the Packers for so long, and he took that offense over there. I was able to polish off all the rust, play in some games and able to get in football shape. So when I came here, it was all second nature. There were a couple new plays that Aaron had put in and a couple new signals, but we talked about that and were able to get on the same page with that.
VRENTAS: One change since you were here last is that Mike McCarthy is no longer calling the offensive plays. How different is the dynamic with Tom Clements as the playcaller?
JONES: It was my first game with Tom calling the plays, and I thought Tom did really well. The good thing about our offense is it’s a lot of uptempo, a lot of no-huddle, so Tom is seeing the field just how we see it and was able to call a great game on Sunday. Hopefully we can keep putting up some points.
VRENTAS: As a player, is there an adjustment to a new offensive playcaller, or is it pretty much the same because Aaron is telling you the play regardless?
JONES: It’s the same for us, because whatever is called, you do your job. Whether Mike is calling it or Tom is calling it, we’re never going to argue the play. The good thing about the no-huddle offense is Aaron is always going to be able to get you into the right play. Tom calls the play, but if you get a certain look where you know that play might not look good, Aaron has the opportunity to get you into the right play. Tom Clements, to me, is a heck of a coach. Even when he used to call the plays at practice years ago, he always had the offense clicking. He is an extremely smart coach, and he knows what he is looking for and what he wants out of his team.
VRENTAS: When you were let go by the Raiders and the Giants, what were the reasons that they gave you?
JONES: Oh, man. When I got released by the Raiders, to be honest with you, it really wasn’t anything that they told me why they were letting me go. They just basically said that they wanted to go younger, I’m guessing. When Jack [Del Rio] came in, I guess he wanted his offense and his offensive players--he had a certain vision that he wanted those guys. I guess I wasn’t in that vision of what he was trying to do, and they let me go. But to be honest with you, I’m the type of guy who doesn’t ask any questions because nine times out of 10, they are going to tell you something that you don’t want to hear, or they are gonna blow some smoke up your butt. I didn’t really ask any questions. When I went in there and I talked to Reggie [McKenzie], he said, ‘J.J., Jack Del Rio wants to go a different route. He wants to go a little younger and have the receivers grow up with Derek Carr.’ Even though Michael Crabtree is 28 years old. So that was their choice, and I just told them, ‘Thank you for the opportunity. I appreciate everything that you guys have done for me.’ And I walked out the door. That was a great year back in Oakland, being able to play in front of the family. I thought I was going to be a part of the new coach coming in, and I thought I helped the young quarterback extremely my first year. I had the most catches I’ve ever had in my career and six touchdowns, so I thought I was going to be part of the future. But you never know with this business. [Long pause]. Sorry, I was ordering my little man ice cream.
And then in New York, I was just behind from Day 1. By that I mean, they already had the guys they wanted. You’ve got Rueben Randle, who came off a great year last year, he’s a draft pick, and you’ve obviously got Victor Cruz and Odell Beckham, Jr. So I felt like they already had their top three. From talking to [Tom] Coughlin, he was telling me I had a great camp, and I was one of the best receivers out there--I led the whole team in preseason--but these other guys they are going to go with. And I understood that. And to be honest with you, I told Coach Coughlin that I didn’t want to be one of those guys who dressed one week, didn’t dress another week, especially me going on nine years in the NFL. I wanted to have the opportunity to go somewhere and play and be a part of an offense. They already had the guys they wanted, so I think it was just out of respect for me to let me go, because I really wasn’t going to be a big part of the offense, because they already had their top three guys they wanted, whether I outplayed them or not. I tell people all the time, that’s just like when we had Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, myself and Randall Cobb. No matter what wide receiver came into camp, even if he had the best camp he’s ever had, we were the top five guys. We all played, and we all came off great seasons. Those are the guys that we are going to keep. It really didn’t matter if a guy came in there and caught a hundred balls in the preseason, these are the guys we are going to go with. So I kind of felt like I was fighting an uphill battle. But everything happens for a reason. I enjoyed Oakland, and I enjoyed New York. Two great organizations.
VRENTAS: That was a heck of a Packers receiving corps that you just mentioned.
JONES: Yeah, and I didn’t even mention Jermichael Finley!
VRENTAS: Did you question your future in the league when things didn’t work out with the Giants?
JONES: I didn’t question my future, because I know I had the tape out there, and I know I even had some good tape from Oakland last year. Like I said, 73 catches, the most I’ve had in my career. I’ve always heard people say, you know he’s slowing down, and all that stuff, and I’m like, man I had the most catches I’ve ever had in my career, and we were struggling as an offense. We weren’t that good as an offense as a whole. So when I hear that, ‘He’s slowing down,’ I’m like, man, I led the league in touchdowns two years ago, then I have the most catches in my career, but since we have a bad record and a bad offense in Oakland ... It happens. It’s kind of like my life story, a lot of ups and downs, but it always turns out good. That’s how I was taking it, something good is going to come out of this, and I am going to be playing football this year.
VRENTAS: At this point in your career, how much extra motivation did that detour give you for this season?
JONES: I’m extremely, extremely motivated, more than I have ever been, right now. Not only to show the teams that released me that I have a lot of football left, but to show myself, that you still have a lot to give and you have a lot of football left. That’s my main motivation right now, to show people that I can still play this game at a very high level and still can help a ball club win. And I am in a great situation, one of the best quarterbacks in the league and one of the offenses that I had my best years in.
VRENTAS: Do you want to spend the rest of your career in Green Bay?
JONES: I would love to play the rest of my career here in Green Bay. I tell Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson that I don’t know why they let me go in the first place. I would love to finish off my career here, whether that is three or four years from now, and finish it off here playing for the Green Bay Packers. Hopefully I have a good enough year where they say, hey, let’s re-sign this guy and let him finish his career out here. But if not, I feel like I still have some years left in me to play, so we’ll see how it goes. But I’m focused on making this season one of the best.
VRENTAS: The Packers let you leave as a free agent in 2014. Did you have any hard feelings you had to overcome to come back to Green Bay?
JONES: No hard feelings at all. One thing I learned early in my career, being around Charles Woodson and all those guys like that, was this is a business. Just like the player does what is right for his family and his career, the organization is doing what is right for them and their teams. Sometimes you are not a part of it, whether you are a Pro Bowler or an All-Pro, whether you lead the league in touchdowns, sometimes you just go separate ways. You can never take hard feelings from that. That is just people doing their job and trying to make the organization better. You may feel like, man, I can make the organization better, but that’s not the way they see it, so you can’t hold grudges or get mad. I have so much respect for Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy because they were the ones who drafted me in the first place to even have an opportunity to start my career. And then they re-signed me after my rookie year, so no hard feelings at all. Love those guys, and I am glad they signed me back to be a part of this organization.
VRENTAS: After winning a Super Bowl with the Packers and perennially going to the playoffs, what did you learn from going through a 3-13 season in Oakland?
JONES: Number one, you learn how to stay together. You have so many people on the outside saying that your team sucks and you shouldn’t even take the field on Sunday. You are still working extremely hard, you are working just as hard as these teams are who are winning, you’re just not winning. It’s hard, but you learn as a team how to come closer. Then you learn really never to take anything for granted. Like you said, I’ve been to the playoffs almost every year in my career, won the Super Bowl. You kind of get spoiled out here in Green Bay, because you have so much success. So you realize not to take things for granted, because it is hard to win in this league.
VRENTAS: How much have you talked to Jordy since you’ve been back?
JONES: Oh yeah, I’ve been talking to Jordy all the time. Jordy is like a brother to me. I’ve been talking to him 24/7, He is in very good spirits. He’s enjoying—well, he’s not enjoying being away from football, but he sits in on all our meetings and is soaking up some of the football knowledge. That’s my guy. I even talked to him all the time when I was in Oakland and New York, so our communication has never changed.
VRENTAS: Next up is Seattle. Can you tell that the Packers’ loss in the NFC Championship Game last year is motivating both for this week and for the season overall?
JONES: I wasn’t here, but I was sitting at home watching that playoff game with my wife, and I was sick. I was really sick, like I was really playing in that game. Just because of the fact that those were my brothers out there. I played with Aaron for seven years, Jordy for seven years, Randall for five years, and we became family. Like I said, I talked to them all of last year when I was in Oakland and they were truly my brothers, so to see them lose like that, I was really hurt for them. Even when I was here, we had some battles with Seattle, the Fail Mary and all that stuff, so I truly was hurt for them. I am excited that it’s a new year and we have another opportunity to play them and compete against those guys.
VRENTAS: What are your expectations for the season now that you are back in Green Bay?
JONES: Every opportunity that I get, every ball that is thrown my way, I don’t care how hard the catch may be, but to be special when the ball comes my way. That’s the goal.
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