INDIANAPOLIS – The practices leading into the club’s second preseason game would qualify as the dog days of training camp.
Players had been toiling religiously in the heat on practice fields and in competition with others trying to survive a cut from 90 players to 53 as teams were trying to form rosters for the regular season.
At that point heading into the game at Pittsburgh, Jones was third on the club’s depth chart at tight end. He was traveling back to the area where he had last played in trying to reach the NFL. That would be the Indoor Football League with the Reading Express, an operation that fielded eight-man teams and practiced whenever times could be arranged.
The chance to make the Colts was still there for Jones when he was asked what he would do to make it onto the playing roster.
“Anything. Anything,” said Jones. “Anything the coaches want me to do, I’m going to try to do it, just to make the team.”
Jones was vying with four other tight ends, all of them young, and the group included two of the top three draft picks by the Colts –
He caught three passes for 66 yards during the preseason, along with having a three-yard rush that moved the chains on a third-down opportunity.
His performance against Cincinnati in the finale was one that helped tip things in his favor. With the club trailing in the fourth quarter, 16-14, Jones took a pass in the flat from quarterback
“Chandler (Harnish) threw the ball and it was a good ball. Any ball is a good ball as long as you get it. I caught it and ran down the sideline,” said Jones. “I saw LaVon (Brazill) running down the sideline, and I slowed down a little bit to let him help me because I wasn’t going to make it there by myself. I slowed down a little bit, he made a good block, I let the guy miss and then scored from there.”
The 42-yard play stood as the eventual deciding score as the Colts prevailed, 20-16. It was made in an offense that covets tight end production both in the receiving and rushing game. Head Coach Chuck Pagano noticed Jones’ play.
“He certainly helped himself on the big play he made against Cincinnati,” said Pagano. He’s been consistent since he walked into this facility.”
Under Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians, the Colts will run an offense with a heavy tight end influence. Fleener was a productive performer at Stanford with quarterback
Those three should play a big role in 2012 for Indianapolis, and Jones had the same type of game experiences at Division II Shepherd University that Allen had in one of the nation’s big programs.
“I played tight end and a little bit H-Back, kind of similar to what we’re doing here,” said Jones. “We had a fullback there, so sometimes we switched out and played double tight ends. I played a little bit of everything I’m doing here.
“After my senior year in college, the (NFL) lockout kind of hurt, being from a small school and (being) relatively unknown, I had to go the long route. … I played in the UFL last year in Sacramento for the Mountain Lions. After that season, I came out and played in the IFL (Indoor Football League) in Reading, Pennsylvania. I’ve been everywhere. (I’m) just trying to make it. All you can do is continue to play. God has blessed me and brought me here. It’s a great opportunity.”
It was his time with Reading where Jones felt he made some improvements that have helped him reach this point. With eight men to a side and a field only 50 yards in length, it was a different game.
“In the IFL, it was more footwork (fundamentals),” said Jones. “I played a lot of receiver in the IFL because there was no tight end there. It was more getting my feet quickness and being able to get around smaller guys and get around linebackers.
“In the UFL, it’s not as high-level as the NFL, but there are a lot of guys who have been in the NFL who have been pushed back in that league. The competition is there – bigger guys, faster pace. (It’s) faster than college, so I learned the speed of the game a little more. The easier transition once I got here helped me here from coming from there, rather than just from college.”
Jones will continue to work on every aspect of his game. He is one of eight rookies to make the squad. He is one of 15 Colts players either in their rookie or first seasons, as well as being one of 15 players who will be getting a first taste of NFL action when next Sunday dawns in Chicago.
There should be room to continue contributing and adding to the dream.
“He’s got versatility. He’s a big man. He’s gotten better as a blocker,” said Pagano. “We know from an athletic standpoint he can catch the ball and make plays down the field. He’s only going to get better as far as a blocking guy.
“He’s a smart guy. He understands a lot of the positions, not only the Wide U but the F position. You can move Dominique around. He can play (multiple positions). Like Dwayne (Allen), you can put him in the backfield some if you want to use him as a blocking fullback. You can split him out, flex him out. So he’s got position flexibility.
“He’s very athletic. He’s a big guy. I think the blocking part of it like most of those guys, is going to keep getting better and better.”