FOXBOROUGH — Donald Jones has had some of his better games in his brief time as an NFL receiver against the Patriots.
But when Jones visited New England before ultimately signing with the team, there was one thing that came up before almost anything else: the hit.
When the Patriots played in Buffalo last September, Jones caught a short screen over the middle and was immediately met by the full force of Vince Wilfork, who wrapped the receiver around the waist and drove him to the Ralph Wilson Stadium turf so quickly and so hard that the home crowd ooooooh’d at the sight of it.
“It was a middle screen. I don’t even really remember how Vince ended up right there when I caught the ball,” Jones told reporters Tuesday. “He read it well and he just caught me in the air and I guess that’s something D-linemen always hope for: to catch a wide receiver coming over the middle.”
Since joining the Patriots on a three-year deal, the 6-foot Jones has talked with Wilfork about the play, and his new teammates aren’t about to let him forget it, either.
“Guys make jokes about it all the time,” said Jones. “They bring it up. Matter of fact, when I came on my visit here, that was one of the first thing the coaches said. That’s something that I’ll never forget.”
Along with the jokes, he also gets some respect for bouncing back up.
Even though Wilfork, at around 350 pounds, weighs a great deal more than the 203-pound Jones, he said the hit didn’t hurt that much, though he joked that had Wilfork landed on him, that may not have been the case.
A Plainfield, N.J., native who grew up a Giants fan, Jones says nothing has been given to him in his 25 years.
“I come from inner city, so I’ve had a tough way here,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of things growing up. I had a tough way just to really get to college. Going to [junior college], then going to a small school [Youngstown State] and coming into the league the way I did, undrafted, all of that stuff, it’s always a battle, always a battle.”
A standout player at Plainfield High, Jones didn’t care much for academics, and despite being recruited by several FBS schools, didn’t get past the NCAA clearinghouse and had to enroll at Lackawanna College, a junior college in Pennsylvania.
Jones now sees the detour as a blessing in disguise.
“When I was young, in high school, I didn’t really do what I had to do to get to where I wanted to get to,” he said. “So I had to go the Juco route, which really helped me out a lot moving forward.
“Maybe if I went straight to a big school I might not have made it through. I didn’t have that mind-set as far as school.”
Having to wait to go to a bigger program, and having to pay his own way through those two years at Lackawanna made Jones realize he had to turn things around. After his successful stint, he received attention again, and chose Youngstown State.
It was there it was discovered Jones had a kidney disease, IgA nephropathy, which can eventually lead to total kidney failure. The disorder is very likely the reason Jones went undrafted in 2010.
Though he ended last season with Buffalo on the reserve/non-football illness list, Jones wouldn’t discuss any details Tuesday, saying it’s in the past and he’s healthy enough to be on the field.
But the ailment is a big reason the Bills opted not to offer Jones, who was supposed to be a restricted free agent, a contract tender. The team feared his condition might worsen.
Coming off his best season, with 41 receptions for 443 yards and four touchdowns for the Bills — eight of those catches, 164 of those yards, and half of those touchdowns came against New England — Jones is part of a major overhaul of the Patriots’ receiver corps.
The team currently has 11 wideouts on the roster, but only two, Julian Edelman (69) and Matthew Slater (one), have caught a pass from Tom Brady.
“When you get into the NFL, every year is going to be competition,” Jones said. “Every year in Buffalo we had 10 receivers, 11 receivers, so you have to have a bunch of receivers going into camp because guys get hurt, things like that.
“As far as the competition, I’ve been competing every year since I got into the NFL, so it’s not going to be any different here. I’m working with the quarterbacks so when we get into OTAs and moving forward into camp and the preseason games, everybody is on one accord.’’
“Everybody’s out competing. You compete every year. There’s no one spot that’s locked down or anything like that. You have to compete when you come out here and may the best man win.”
Jones acknowledged that the Patriots offense is far different from any system he’s been in, and requires a great deal of study.
“As far as the playbook, you all know it’s different systems — some systems are digit systems, some systems are concept-based — and for some guys it’s harder to make that transition from a digit system to a concept system to West Coast and things like that,” he said.
“This playbook is very complex and if you’re not studying at all times, if you don’t put the work in, you really won’t be able to contain it because they’re always switching things up.”
If you’re on the field making mistakes, he added, you’ll be on the bench soon enough, because Brady won’t be throwing to you.
“He’s a hard worker,” Jones said. “He’s very fast, up-tempo, so he wants everyone to be up-tempo and make sure you’re always [working]. His biggest thing is working hard. If you come to work and work hard every day, then you’re cool with him.”