Former Notre Dame WR TJ Jones waits and wonders when he'll play

Bob Wieneke
South Bend Tribune

It's not the NFL experience that TJ Jones envisioned when the Detroit Lions drafted him in the sixth round of the May NFL Draft. By this point he expected to have earned a spot on the active roster, joining a depth chart that includes wide receivers Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, and running back Theo Riddick, who is gaining a more prominent role in the offense.

Instead, it's been a lot of watching. A lot of waiting. A lot of wondering when his opportunity will occur, when the shoulder injury he had at Notre Dame will be healed enough for him to play.

"It's tough. It's frustrating at times, said Jones, who continues to recover from summer shoulder surgery. "It's difficult to finally get the opportunity to live what you've been working for all your life and then have to sit out and then not really get a timetable for when I'll be back. It's been rough, but I take that and try to keep myself in the playbook."

Jones had the injury when he was at Notre Dame and was told it was a sprain. After the draft though, it was further looked at and Jones underwent surgery.

"And it turned out it was a lot more," the 6-foot, 195-pound Jones said.

Jones on Saturday, according to ESPN.com, was moved to the physically unable to perform reserve list, which means he can't practice for six weeks, and the Lions will then have five weeks to decide whether to allow him to practice. If the Lions don't allow Jones to practice, or activate him to the 53-man roster after he starts practice, he would be on the PUP list all season.

Jones said his recovery time is completely uncertain.

"I could wake up tomorrow and feel 100 percent," Jones said this week.

Until he does, though, it's learning by watching and picking the brains of others. One of those who Jones has been able to tap into is former Notre Dame receiver Tate, who left the school in 2009, the year before Jones arrived. In fact, the two have adjoining lockers.

"So there's a lot that we get to talk about like the smaller details of the game that are going to help me now and in the long run," Jones said.

Another former Domer that occupies the Lions roster is running back Theo Riddick. The two for a spell were both receivers at ND before Riddick moved back to his natural position. When Riddick left Notre Dame following the 2012 season, Jones thought the two had played their last game together.

"I never thought I'd be on another team with Theo," Jones said. "When the Lions drafted me that was the first thing I thought of was 'I'm back with my guy.'"

One other guy Jones has been able to associate himself with is Lions All-Pro Calvin Johnson. When Jones first showed up, he was a bit apprehensive about how to approach the future Hall of Famer. Instead, on day one, it was Johnson who came over to Jones' locker to introduce himself.

"At first it is a little bit of an 'awe' moment,'' Jones said. "It's someone that you've looked up to and you've watched growing up and now you're looking to play alongside of him. It's a completely different aspect. You don't know how to approach him, you don't know how he's going to approach you that first time you meet. I was like, 'Whoa,' It caught me off guard. That was the first day. I didn't know what to expect."

What Jones has now come to expect is a veteran who has set an example within the locker room.

"After you get the initial introduction out of the way it's Calvin Johnson the role model, the friend, the teammate, not just the distant role model that I looked up to growing up," Jones said.

And the lesson Jones has learned from Johnson?

"How to be great," Jones said. "In everything he does from the practice field to the meeting room to how he recovers. He's the first one in the building, one of the last to leave. Really just how to be a pro, how to carry yourself and have that long career."

Despite not playing, with no set timetable for a return, Jones believes he'll play this year. He knows when he does return, he has catching up to do.

"You don't have time to redo plays, to redo things that you needed practice on," Jones said. "They're moving on with or without you so you've got to make sure you're on your Ps and Qs every day."

Still, despite being sidelined, the lifelong dream has lived up to expectations.

"It's been great so far. It's a different experience," Jones said. "There's a little more independence and a lot more responsibility placed on each individual but it's been a great experience so far and I've enjoyed every second of it."

Former Notre Dame wide receiver TJ Jones on Saturday was placed on the physically unable to perform list by the Detroit Lions. Jones is sidelined with a shoulder injury.