Visit to McCarthy's Hometown...........Kenny Mayne

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Jones makes a big-time impression

Last year, a second-round pick who lacked big-time name recognition coming from Western Michigan, justified his selection from the very first practice and, had he not suffered a midseason ankle injury, might've put up a 1,000-yard season as a rookie. His name? Greg Jennings.

Don't look now, but it appears to be happening again, this time with third-round pick James Jones.

"It's crazy, I'm only in my second year, and he kind of reminds me of myself," Jennings said Tuesday. "He's doing everything that people don't expect a rookie to do."

Added Driver, who watched Jones from the sideline during the first three days of practice: "I think he has what the coaches look for — confidence and comfort in the offense. When I came in in 1999, that's what I wanted to do right off the bat, come in and prove that I could play with anybody, regardless of who they were."

A reach?

Jones has caught virtually every ball thrown his direction, including two beauties on Tuesday morning, when he skied over No. 3 cornerback Patrick Dendy to reel in a touchdown from Aaron Rodgers, then went up and got a high Paul Thompson pass for another TD in the back of the end zone.

"That's why we drafted him," wide receivers coach Jimmy Robinson said matter-of-factly. "We knew he could do that."

Perhaps, but when the Packers took Jones with the 78th overall pick in April, the selection caused some head-scratching. Most of the pre-draft know-it-alls had Jones pegged as a second-day pick, as low as the sixth or seventh round, so he was considered a reach by many.

Plus, in some ways, the Packers opted for Jones' long-term potential over the short-term help a trade for Randy Moss could have provided. Moss went from Oakland to New England for a fourth-round pick (No. 110 overall), and general manager Ted Thompson could have dealt the pick for Moss had he wanted to.

Instead, Thompson opted for a guy who caught 70 passes for 893 yards and 10 TDs in 13 games as a senior at San Jose State last year after catching just 56 balls his first three college seasons combined.

"You definitely want to make a real good first impression. You want to open some eyes as fast as you can so the coaches start looking at you," Jones said. "I just go out there and make the most of my chances."

Learning curve

While Jones' ability to pluck the ball out of midair has gotten everyone's attention, coach Mike McCarthy cautioned that, unlike Jennings, who picked up the offense almost instantly, Jones "is thinking (a lot) right now. You can see when he breaks the huddle, he's thinking about the formation, he's thinking about the play."

Or, as Robinson put it, "Things came easy to Greg. I don't think they necessarily come as easy to James, in terms of the scheme. But he's handling it pretty well to this point.''

Indeed, while veteran cornerbacks Al Harris and Charles Woodson have been supportive of the rookie, they're also holding him to a higher standard after seeing what Jennings did last year in camp.

"From what I've seen, he's got real good hands. But this is camp," Woodson said. "It was kind of different with Jennings last year, there was just something with him that everybody could just kind of see. Jones, he catches some good balls, but I've got to see him in the game."

Added Harris: "I wouldn't quite say he's like Jennings was, because Jennings, he really caught on really fast. He was real smooth in his routes. James works hard, and he's got very strong hands. He caught a slant on me the other day where he ran a good route. He just needs to do that more often — sell his routes better, be crisper. But he catches the ball very, very well. I haven't seen him drop a pass."

And that might be the best part of Jones' strong first impression: He isn't getting swept up in his early successes. While his highlight-reel catches have been a staple of the local news stations' 10 p.m. sportscasts, he's acutely aware of how far he has to go. Told of Woodson and Harris' comments, he simply nodded in agreement.

"Definitely. I need to improve on a lot of parts of my game," he said. "I can run routes better, I can read coverages better, I can understand the game a lot better — I can do a lot of things better to elevate my game. That's why we're practicing, and that's what we're here for, to practice the things we need to get better on.''

Courtesy of Jason Wilde, Wisconsin Sports Writer of the Year from today's Wisconsin State Journal:

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