FOXBORO — Donald Jones already had a rep by the time he showed up in New England for his free agent visit this offseason. The wide receiver had strung together some impressive stretches with the Bills over the course of his three-year career, including 18 catches for 319 yards and two touchdowns against the Patriots.
Of course, the New England braintrust also recognized him as being the unlucky fellow on the receiving end of this shot from defensive lineman Vince Wilfork which took place in last September’s Patriots-Bills game in Buffalo.
“It was a middle screen,” Jones said when asked to recall how the play developed. “I don’t even really remember how Vince ended up right there when I caught the ball. He was right there, so…. He read it well and he just caught me in the air. I guess that’s something d-linemen always hope for: to catch a wide receiver coming over the middle. So he got his thing that he always hopes for, I guess.”
The shot was one of the biggest hits of the year for the New England defense. As for Jones — who signed a free-agent deal with the Patriots in March — it has followed him here to Foxboro.
“I talked to [Vince] about it. Guys make jokes about it all the time. They bring it up,” he said during a break from the offseason workout program at Gillette Stadium. “At the same time they’d make a joke and then at the end they’ll try to fix it over by saying ‘You got up anyway though, so it’s all good.
“You know, it actually looked a lot worse than it was. It didn’t hurt. I’m sure if he landed on me it would have hurt a lot more. He caught me in the air, so the hit didn’t hurt or anything. That was not the hardest hit that I’ve taken.”
Of course, Jones is much more than just a speedbump for defensive linemen. The 6-foot, 208-pounder is a Youngstown State product who spent three seasons in the league, all with the Bills, and has 82 career receptions. His best year came in 2012 when he caught 41 passes for 443 yards and four touchdowns.
He enters a position that’s in a state of flux for the Patriots — only one guy on the current roster caught a pass from Tom Brady last season (Julian Edelman). Jones competing with new faces like veterans Danny Amendola and Mike Jenkins and rookies Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce. Jones welcomes the competition.
“When you get into the NFL, every year is going to be competition,” he said. “Every year in Buffalo we had 10 receivers, 11 receivers, so you have to have a bunch of receivers going into camp because guys get hurt, things like that. As far as the competition, I’ve been competing every year since I got into the NFL, so it’s not going to be any different here. I’m working with the quarterbacks so when we get into OTAs and moving forward into camp and the preseason games, everybody is on one [page].
“Everybody’s new so everybody’s working together so that we can learn the playbook together,” he said. “It’s not like one guy is coming in and every guy is above him in terms of the playbook and things like that. Everybody’s coming in at the same level. So we’re all working together to learn the playbook. We’re all working together in the weight room, things like that, so we’re ready to compete against the defense come next week.”
Two things that are different for Jones: the quarterback and the playbook. Like all the new pass catchers on the roster, he’s taking every opportunity to work with Brady.
“Everyday we’re out and we’re [throwing] out in the bubble or outside,” Jones said. “We talk Buffalo, just because it’s a rival team. He’ll always have jokes with me about cheating in a drill or something like that. It’s real good to be able to work alongside one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, so I’m excited.
“Here, the playbook is a lot more difficult than anywhere I’ve been,” he added. “Youngstown was easy. It was a simple college playbook. Buffalo it got harder but once you get it, you get it. Here, they keep you on your toes. They switch a lot of things up week to week, so you have to constantly be on your 1s and 2s and paying attention to what they’re saying. Because if you get out there and mess it up, you’re going to be on the bench and Tom’s not throwing to you. You just have to make sure you’re in your playbook at all times and studying what you have to do.”