The big bang theoryPublished 8:03pm Wednesday, August 15, 2012
GREENVILLE — The big man’s career began with a big catch as then-freshman Justin Jones used his giant 6-8 frame and catcher’s mitt-sized hands to haul in a Dominique Davis Hail Mary and lift the Pirates to a 51-49 victory over Tulsa in the 2010 season opener.
Jones would go on to catch 21 passes for 211 yards and five touchdowns that season and was in line to have a breakout sophomore campaign in 2011 when disaster struck this time last year.
The Pirates were concluding their second scrimmage of the summer when Jones suffered multiple injuries that would hamper him throughout his entire sophomore season.
“It was our last scrimmage in camp, it was a weekend like this one coming up and I ran just a regular dig route and came across and caught the ball and got hit low and popped my MCL and broke my wrist at the same time,” Jones said. “I felt it pop and I knew something was wrong. I was able to walk myself off but I definitely had torn my knee.”
Jones was active for six games last season but his action was severely limited as he played a large portion of those contests with a cast on. Despite that, Jones caught six passes, with four of them being four touchdowns.
When it comes to Jones the theory is simple: the big man can provide a big bang for the offense if he can manage to stay healthy.
With his 6-8, 257-pound body Jones can dwarf opposing defensive backs, while his speed and athleticism make him a nightmare matchup for linebackers who chose to take him on.
Jones provides an instant matchup problem for opposing defensives the moment he lines up at the Y receiver spot and that is something that East Carolina offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley looks to take full advantage of this year.
“We look to see how they personnel him as soon as he comes in the game. Is he treated like a receiver or is he treated like a tight end?,” Riley said. “In theory, if he’s treated like a receiver than we should be able to get down and smash the ball on some people. If he’s treated like a tight end or another lineman than obviously we look to throw the ball.”
Jones’ road to recovery appears to be headed in the right direction as he caught a 12-yard TD pass during the Pirates first scrimmage of the summer.
The rising junior said the key right now is to stick to the game plan when it comes to rehabilitation.
“I feel good. I’m just staying in rehab and sticking with the treatment,” Jones said. “(Strength and conditioning coach Jeff Connors) says an once of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure so I’m just keeping in the training room even if there is nothing wrong with me.”
While his knee and wrist have technically healed, Jones said he still feels lingering pain in his right wrist, especially when he is called upon to block.
“The knee healed but the wrist is constantly a problem,” Jones said. “I have to block. Playing tight end I’m constantly coming off the ball and punching and grabbing. I have to keep it taped up to the max.
“It’s one of those things that will just always be there. It may not be so noticeable down the road when I’m 40 and not blocking any more, but it’s manageable and it’s not a pain that will impact my play.”
The Pirates are hoping Jones is right about that. The team is currently auditioning four quarterbacks to fill the void left by departed two-year starter Dominique Davis and having a big receiver can be a big help to an inexperienced passer.
“Having that kind of target is really comforting because you know you can be a little bit off target and still make the play,” Riley said. “You can put the ball in a few different places where you know the DB can’t make the play. It takes a lot of pressure off the quarterback.”