Two weeks into his Bucs tenure, Julio Jones exceeding expectations

“He’s been more than I expected,” general manager Jason Licht said Thursday
Bucs wide receiver Julio Jones (85) beats Dolphins All-Pro cornerback Xavien Howard (25) on a pass from Tom Brady during Wednesday's joint practice with Miami at AdventHealth Training Center.
Bucs wide receiver Julio Jones (85) beats Dolphins All-Pro cornerback Xavien Howard (25) on a pass from Tom Brady during Wednesday's joint practice with Miami at AdventHealth Training Center. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Aug. 11, 2022|Updated Aug. 14, 2022

TAMPA — When the question was pitched his way, the tailback didn’t stutter step. Leonard Fournette went straight ahead, and a fan base found daylight in his response.

So who out there really seems to be picking things up?

“Julio (Jones), definitely,” the Buc said with no hesitation. “You see a guy of his stature, how big and fast he runs, and how he gets open, and you see why he is where he is at in the league.”

A little cool-your-jets disclaimer: Jones, slowed by injuries the last two seasons, hasn’t embarked on a career resurgence with the Bucs at 33. It only seems that way for the receiver through two uplifting weeks of training camp.

“He’s been more than I expected, to be honest,” general manager Jason Licht told WDAE-AM 620 on Thursday.

Every practice seems to send social media into a froth. During Wednesday’s joint practice with the Dolphins, Jones’ outstretched snag of a Tom Brady deep ball — over Miami cornerback Noah Igbinoghene — during 7-on-7 action was deemed the “Play of the Day” on the Bucs’ Twitter account.

“You know, he looks good,” Bucs coach Todd Bowles said Monday of Jones, who signed with the team last month.

“Obviously not being with the team in the offseason, he’s still got to get in a little better shape, but we like what we see in him. He’s explosive, very smart, understands the game, and he can help us.”

The possibilities seem boundless, at least in mid-August. Jones, who missed games in each of his past two seasons because of injuries, must stay healthy, continue developing a clairvoyance with Brady (which becomes trickier with every missed practice by Brady, out for personal reasons until at least after the second preseason game) and keep digesting coordinator Byron Leftwich’s offense.

Then, imagine plugging the seven-time Pro Bowler into a rotation where he doesn’t necessarily have to be the No. 1 guy.

Think Antonio Brown in this system, circa 2020. The difference is, Brown (45 catches, 483 yards in eight regular-season games that season) didn’t sign until late October. Jones, the NFL’s active leader in receiving yardage (13,330) signed the first day of training camp this year.

“Everything’s coming to me,” Jones said Thursday, when he was given a veteran’s day off and observed the second joint practice with Miami while wearing a bucket hat. “The game of football, you just don’t want to have to go out there and think. You want it to become second nature to you. But I’m picking it up fairly quickly, and it’s been good.”

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Limited to 19 total games by hamstring issues the past two seasons, Jones didn’t play in Saturday’s preseason opener against the Dolphins. He also likely won’t get a rep in Game 2 at Tennessee on Saturday, though he’s sure to participate in the joint workouts with the Titans, who released him in March after one injury-besieged season (31 catches, 434 yards in 10 games).

The past two years seem to have fostered patience and prudence in Jones in terms of dealing with physical setbacks.

“As far as patience-wise, just going out there like 60-70 percent and just feeling like you can go out there and compete, I was doing that in the past,” Jones said. “But now I’m just staying ahead of it. Just getting the treatment, the proper treatment, the proper rest, things like that.”

And when a total grasp of the offense converges with good health, the Bucs might have a comeback player of the year candidate on their roster.

“He brings physicality, he brings everything,” safety Mike Edwards said. “He’s got the routes, the speed, everything.”

Contact Joey Knight at Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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