NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas
Justin Jones has a natural advantage over the defenders covering him at New England Patriots training camp. But for the 6’8”, 275-pound undrafted tight end, it’s about learning to get the most out of it.
He has one to learn from in the 6’6”, 265-pound Rob Gronkowski.
“Gronk does a really good job of using his body when he’s coming through defenders,” Jones said after Saturday’s practice at Gillette Stadium. “Guys trying to get a jam on him, you know that doesn’t really faze him too often.”
Jones knows that the two-time Pro Bowler is hard to replicate. Yet he also knows that his stature is similar.
That stature helped Jones catch 52 passes for 598 yards and 12 touchdowns over 32 games at East Carolina, before he was ruled academically ineligible for 2013. When he was on the field, though, his length opened passing windows.
“I mean a lot of times it just comes to using our bodies, and using a little bit of a box out and post up when turning around and stuff like that,” said Jones.
In order for those passing windows to continue to open for the 22-year-old, who has basketball and track in his background, he has to use his body to get in the right position downfield. And then he has to secure the pass.
Getting in the right position and securing passes are things Gronkowski has been able to do for 226 receptions, 3,255 yards and 42 touchdowns over 50 NFL regular-season games. Yet even after missing 12 regular-season contests over the last two years, Jones still sees his teammate’s effectiveness on display in camp.
“He’s done a really good job with his forearm and his injuries, still using his near arm, shaking off defenders and getting open at the top of his route,” Jones said of No. 87, who has been participating in individual drills alongside him this July.
Now Jones split wide during his three seasons on the field with the Pirates. His presence down in the red zone also drew significant attention in the Conference USA.
Those are aspects that carry over when he looks at Gronkowski’s game.
“In the red zone, Gronk’s a monster, so something you get excited about is being split out,” Jones added.
“You see all the things you can do with him, and that’s something that really impacted my decision to come here. Something I feel like was the best opportunity, and that’s the type of football I play.”