NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Titans continue to play it safe with Julio Jones.
That is why, coach Mike Vrabel said Monday, the seven-time Pro Bowler was on the field sparingly after halftime—and not at all in the fourth quarter—of Sunday’s 25-16 victory over the Indianapolis Colts at Nissan Stadium.
Even with A.J. Brown sidelined by a hamstring injury, Jones watched as unheralded players such as Nick Westbrook-Ikhine and Racey McMath piled up the playing time while Tennessee tried to put away its AFC South rival. The Titans outscored the Colts 11-3 over the final 15 minutes.
“This is what we do,” Vrabel said. “This is not an issue with his performance. This isn’t an issue with anything other than me making a decision and saying, ‘Hey man, let’s see if we can get through this, and survive, and win this football game.’
“It is a long season.”
Vrabel stopped short of saying that Jones is injured but indicated the wide receiver got “tight” against the Colts, which prompted the decision to keep him on the sideline.
“Guys go through games, guys get tight, and I felt like it was in the best interest of our football team, and everybody involved, that he be available in an emergency situation at that point in time,” Vrabel said. “There hasn’t been one situation [with Jones] where I was disappointed. He has played physical, came back, and played great last week, played physical (Sunday) and that was where we were.”
When Jones sustained an unspecified leg injury early in training camp, Vrabel said the team planned to be “conservative” with the seven-time Pro Bowler. Ultimately, Jones missed more than three weeks of practices, did not appear in a preseason game and only ramped up his preparation as the regular-season opener drew near.
Still, three games into the season, he is tied for the team lead with 12 receptions and has been targeted 18 times, more than all of his teammates except Brown (19 targets). His 128 receiving yards on six catches ranks among the league’s top 10 thus far. No other Tennessee player has more than 105 receiving yards on the season.
Jones is one of 14 AFC wide receivers with at least 200 receiving yards (he has 204). He did draw the ire of his coach for his unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in a Week 1 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
“I can’t be more adamant that [Jones’s] performance and what we have asked him to do, hasn’t been perfect—my coaching hasn’t been perfect, everybody else hasn’t been perfect—but he has done what we have asked him to do and has played with great effort,” Vrabel said. “If I wasn’t as clear as maybe I should have been or we would have liked me to be, I am just trying to tell you that it wasn’t a performance-related thing and that we will continue to make sure we get guys ready for the game and make sure that their health and their safety is paramount.”