Last week, Green Bay wide receiver James Jones delivered a motivational speech to players from his former college team.
This week, Jones is back talking to himself on the field – literally – as the Packers prepare to play Detroit in the FOX America’s Game of the Week (1 p.m. ET Sunday).
One of the NFL’s most improved players, Jones credits an unorthodox tactic that has helped him eliminate the all-too-frequent drops from his first five seasons with the Packers. Jones said the self-conversations began at the advice of Keith Williams, who was his position coach at San Jose State University.
“When I was in college, he was always staying on me about every little thing,” Jones told FOXSports.com in a telephone interview. “He’d even text me in class and tell me to focus. Once I got here, I didn’t have that any more. I was on my own.”
Jones said Packers wide receivers coach Edgar Bennett also “never lets me relax.” But it’s the ongoing relationship with Williams that provides game-day inspiration.
“He’ll text me before every game and tell me to keep my focus even if I’ve got to talk to myself,” said Jones, who first shared his secret with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel earlier this season.
“I’ll say things to myself like, ‘Come on, stay low! Burst off the ball! Look the ball in!’ so I can stay focused and able to make plays.”
Hey, whatever works.
Taking advantage of the opportunity created by the absence of Greg Jennings (groin), Jones has left defensive backs mumbling to themselves. He has 40 catches for 462 yards and an NFC-high eight touchdowns in nine starts, which is the most Jones has logged since his rookie campaign in 2007.
Jones will be looking Sunday to take advantage of a Lions pass defense that has experienced mass injuries at the cornerback position all season. Despite those losses, Detroit has only surrendered three touchdown passes. The Lions also field a pass rush that is better than what a No. 16 ranking in sacks (20) indicates.
“They’ve actually gotten better in pass defense (from 2011),” Jones said. “This is going to be a tough test. We’re in their home place. The Packers are coming to town, so you know they’re going to be fired up to play. We have to execute well.”
Inconsistent execution is the reason Jones spent most of the previous four years as a spot player. According to the Pro Football Focus web site (www.profootballfocus.com), Jones entered 2012 with the highest percentage of dropped passes (14.39 percent) of any active receiver over the past three seasons.
Jones did some self-analysis as to why this was happening before his offseason workouts began.
“I’ve always been all-in but this year I’m more mentally focused,” he said. “In the past, whether I made a good or bad play, I could lose focus for some stretches of the game and not really show my true ability. I would start thinking too much like, ‘I ain’t got the ball in a minute and I don’t know when it’s going to come,’ and then when it did come, I would drop it.
“I’m more prepared and confident going out playing my game and letting the chips fall where they may. If something bad happens, I just move on from it.”
For a spell this season, it appeared Jones might be moving on from Green Bay. He was the subject of numerous trade rumors throughout the offseason and preseason because of his past struggles, Green Bay’s depth at the position and a salary cap-friendly contract.
Jones said he was never given an indication by the Packers or his agent that a trade was in the offing. He also insulated himself by not reading any of the media reports about it.
“I want to stay here,” said Jones, who is under contract through the 2013 season. “I’d love to finish my career here even though some guys don’t get to do that. My main thing is that I’m blessed to play football.”