Julio Jones primed for a revival with Buccaneers after strong start as Tom Brady target | Opinion

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Julio Jones seemed a bit annoyed, if not highly offended by the mere mention of the word.

The classic wide receiver, poised for a revival with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, missed 14 games the past two seasons due to hamstring issues.

How frustrating was that?

“So, check this out: The last few years … first of all, I’m never frustrated. That’s just like a weak mentality,” Jones told USA TODAY Sports. “But I always got tight. I never actually pulled my hamstring.

“I’m not on social media; I never speak on nothing. I let everybody create the narrative they want to create about me. It is what it is. I can play. I can ball. That’s all that matters. And that’s behind me.”

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Julio Jones caught three passes for 69 yards in the Buccaneers' 19-3 win over the Cowboys in Week 1.
Julio Jones caught three passes for 69 yards in the Buccaneers' 19-3 win over the Cowboys in Week 1.

Jones, 33, opened up as the last player out of the visitor’s locker room at JerryWorld on Sunday night after 93,797 fans witnessed his impressive debut with the Bucs – his third team in as many seasons.

He underwent treatment after the game, then emerged to find an empty locker room.

“Where is everybody?” he said, surprised to find that even the equipment managers had finished packing up the team’s gear.

The Bucs sure wouldn’t leave without Jones, who demonstrated during the victory against the Dallas Cowboys why his free-agent signing as one of Tom Brady’s newest weapons might be a coup.

Byron Leftwich, the Bucs' O-coordinator, used Jones all over the place. On a third-and-one, Jones sprinted around right end on a jet sweep that gained five yards to pick up the first down. Later, he streaked downfield on a go route, adjusting to haul in Brady’s throw for a 48-yard play as he crashed to the turf. Jones finished with 86 total yards on three receptions and two sweeps. And he would’ve had more if Brady hadn’t missed him as he ran wide open on one particular slant pattern.

Jones lined up wide outside on some formations, tight inside on others. He ran the whole route tree and factored in the running game while playing 32 snaps (52% of the 62 plays).

“Everything, man,” he said. “Wherever they want to use me at. I’ve got a lot of versatility. It’s good, man. Moving around, defenses can’t get a bead on you, so I love it.”

That reminds me of a New England Patriots practice during the week of Super Bowl 51 in Houston. Bill Belichick had such respect for the versatility of the then-Atlanta Falcons star that he had his first-team defense play 11-against-12 in the red zone drills – using two receivers bearing the No. 11 jersey that Jones wore at the time for the Falcons.

If Jones can perform to that threat level again in his 12th pro season, look out.

“Julio can play,” Bucs coach Todd Bowles trumpeted on Sunday night, echoing the tone he expressed during training camp. “We keep saying it all along. He got in shape. He got healthy. He’s a warrior. He’s one of those guys that’s going to come out every week and compete.”

He’s also a guy with a new ID. Jones is wearing No. 6 for the Bucs. It’s nothing sentimental, nothing superstitious.

“It’s just a number, man,” he said. “I didn’t want to take nobody out of their number. It was, ‘Whatever’s available, I’m going to take it.’ No significance.”

Brady’s backup, Blaine Gabbert, wears No. 11 for the Bucs. Third-string quarterback Kyle Trask is No. 2, the jersey number Jones had last year with the Tennessee Titans.

“I always had a motto, man: I make the number, the number don’t make me,” Jones declared. “That’s how I go about it.”

It figures that Brady and Jones have connected. Brady raves about Jones’ all-business approach, which includes a low-key demeanor that is the polar opposite of how the highly skilled, yet highly flamboyant, Antonio Brown rolled.

“A lot of confidence in him,” Brady said of Jones. “We’re going to just 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.”

Jones would agree with that and with the notion that game recognizes game. Especially veteran game. He makes it sound like developing chemistry with Brady is the least of his worries.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about communication,” Jones said. “He says, ‘I want this look’ or ‘that look,’ and I say, ‘Cool. Let’s do it. Let’s make it happen.’ It’s just that simple. There’s no, ‘I can’t do this.’ I can do any and everything. So, it’s just that simple.”

After Jones missed seven games last season and seven during his final season with the Falcons, it’s fair to wonder whether he’ll hold up for the long haul. If he does, he would be positioned to add to his legend – remember, at the 2011 NFL combine as he came out of Alabama, Jones ran the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds despite a fractured bone in his foot – as a major cog in the Bucs’ chase for another Super Bowl crown.

Teaming with star wideouts Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, and running back Leonard Fournette among others, Jones looms as a key big-play answer for the Bucs’ need to replace the production and red zone presence of retired tight end Rob Gronkowski.

With his opening act, Jones fit right into that possibility, reminding the NFL universe of what he offered during his prime – when he rarely played for championship contenders.

“For me, it’s not an age thing or a prime thing,” Jones said. “I feel like I’m just as fast as when I came into the league. I just feel like I have more knowledge of the game by playing the game for so long and going through it, right? With the experience I have, I can just go in, pick up the offense.

“It’s just amazing,” he added. “I feel good. I’m part of a great team. And a great receiver room, too. Everybody in that room can ball and play. For me to be able to come around these guys, and the talent they have, and giving me those opportunities to take those jet sweeps and do different things like that, I just appreciate them in that room, appreciate them letting me get those opportunities.”

And all without a hint of frustration.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Julio Jones primed for a revival with Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers