TAMPA, Fla. — It didn’t take long for wide receiverto have his first wow-type moment with quarterback as a member of the .
With 1 minute left in the first half Sunday night at the, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Jones raced 20.62 mph on a go route to make a stunning 48-yard catch. It wound up being the third-fastest time of any receiver carrying or catching the ball in the league in Week 1, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, and the fastest of any receiver on a deep route.
“He made a huge catch on the go route,” Brady said of the seven-time Pro Bowler, who was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 2010s. “A lot of confidence in him. We’re just going to keep growing and getting better. He’s a true professional, and I love working with people like that. It’s important to them, and they care a lot. I love playing with a guy like Julio.”
Jones’ final stat line was a respectable three catches on five targets for 69 yards receiving in the. The performance offered a glimpse of what his partnership with Brady might look like with offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich’s unit.
“[Jones] and Tom were connecting at a great level during the summer,” Leftwich said Thursday. “So, it’s good to see him out there rolling the way he was rolling [in Week 1]. We’re just focused on the next game. We’ve got a big game here Sunday.”
Leftwich has been singing the praises of Jones all offseason, but he’s not the only one.
“Julio can play. We kept saying it all along,” coach Todd Bowles said of the 33-year-old. “He got in shape. He got healthy. He’s a warrior. He’s one of those guys that’s going to come out and compete every week.”
Running backchuckled moments later.
“Listen, I told y’all he had a great camp,” Fournette said. “Eventually, when the season goes on and on, he’s going to show out.”
For perspective, the two players with faster times this week werewide receiver , age 23, who registered 20.8 mph, and wide receiver , age 27, who came in at 20.64 mph. The next two after Jones? wide receiver , age 23, at 20.39, and Dolphins wide receiver , age 28, at 20.33.
No other player on the offensive side of the ball over the age of 30 reached 20 mph in Week 1, and only four other receivers drafted before 2014 who are over the age of 30 reached 20 mph last season as ball carriers, and they did it a combined six times total. None of them were 200 pounds either.
What also makes Jones’ feat even more interesting is that he hit 20 mph as a ball carrier on just one pass play last season when he was with the— in Week 2 against the . When he wasn’t a ball carrier — he hit 20 mph four times total last year.
Granted, a receiver must time his speed with that of his quarterback, and he has to account for defenders, but it certainly demonstrates what Jones can be when healthy. It also shows ways he can help the Bucs account for the losses of wide receiverand tight end from last season.
Jones missed a combined 14 regular-season games over the past two seasons because of hamstring injuries. But he said he’s finally healthy now, and it’s “night and day” compared to last season. The biggest lesson he took from the past two seasons has been patience — not forcing himself back if he can’t be at 100%, and that sometimes it’s better to wait.
“I feel amazing,” Jones said. “I don’t have anything that is lingering, anything that is holding me back, anything that I am unsure about. I am ready to go.”
The Bucs eased him into training camp and limited his practice plays until he could get into his old playing shape, and they’ve given him several preemptive “veteran days” so his workload can be managed.
“We think he can lend a lot for us,” Bowles said. “We’ve just got to knock on wood and keep him healthy.”
They also feel that because they have a deep group of receivers — arguably one of the best in the league — that they can keep his snap counts reasonable, although he ran 22 routes Sunday, one shy of‘ workload.
Jones did not practice Wednesday and Thursday this week, and Evans did not participate Thursday as well.
“They’ve been doing a heck of a job with managing days on, days off, practice — things like that — getting enough reps to be game ready, to not be fatigued when the game come around or having jitters and not knowing what to do,” Jones said.
Getting him to Tampa, Florida, was a slow process that began in March with Brady reaching out to him. It was initially just getting to know one another, getting a feel for each others’ values as players, to see if it would be a fit. Jones had gotten interest from other teams too — the Seahawks, theand the .
But Jones told his agent, Jimmy Sexton, that the list of quarterbacks he’d want to play with and teams he wanted to play for was very short. It included Brady and the‘ .
He wanted to be part of a team poised to contend for a Super Bowl that shared the same sense of urgency he did.
Jones also liked what the Bucs receiving corps, led by Evans and fellow Pro Bowler, were all about — selfless players doing the small things and who cared more about winning than they did catches.
He got to know them in brief conversations after games when they played twice a year, and had played in the same offenses under Dirk Koetter, so they’d watched quite a bit of film of each other. Plus, he could reunite with formerteammate and mentee .
“Obviously, he’s a great player, but I think he’s a great teammate, too,” Brady said of Jones. “You just sense that he’s here for all the right reasons. He’s been really fun to get to know. Obviously, I’ve watched him for a long time, obviously admired his ability to play and play at a high level. I’ve been on the other sideline watching him be a dynamic player.”
The feeling is mutual for Jones.
“Just the way he attacks the game each and every day is special, like practice — each and every day the way he attacks practice,” Jones said. “In meetings he is very vocal, and I love that because it’s not like, ‘OK, I want these guys to do this, but I’m not going to really say it.’ He always overcommunicates about things. I think that’s big, because at the end of the day, we all have to be on the same page.
“He welcomes everything as well, so if I have a question, or anybody has a question about a route or whatever, how he wants it run or how you see it — he takes that time out to walk you through it or go though it like, ‘Hey, I want it to look like this. Can we do it like this?’ I just feel like the communication side of it is very big, and it’s key to a lot of success.”
As the Bucs prepare for their Week 2 matchup with the Saints on Sunday (), they will continue to figure out different ways to use Jones, which is invigorating for a player now in his 12th season.
Jones has achieved all that there is in this sport, aside from winning a Super Bowl ring, although Bowles emphasized, “This is not an old folks’ home. We’re not bringing in just to bring people in, so to speak.”
The Bucs ran two end arounds with Jones for pickups of 5 and 12 yards.
“He looked like a big running back out there,” Evans said of the end arounds. “So that’s good we can get him out in space and let him do his thing.”
The last time Jones ran an end around was in 2019, the most recent season he made the Pro Bowl, before the injuries started to mount. The same for 2018, when he last led the NFL in receiving yards. His second end around Sunday also hit 19.98 mph — eighth fastest of any ball carrier in Week 1.
“I feel great,” Jones said. “We’ve got a great group of guys here, the coaching staff and the whole organization.
“I’m just grateful having the opportunity to give back to my brothers next to me.”