This article is a part of our 2012 Player Projections series. During the summer months Blue & Gold Illustrated will be evaluating each player on Notre Dame’s projected two-deep depth chart — reviewing their careers to this point and discussing expectations for the year to come.
Irish junior TJ Jones will begin his third season as a regular starter on offense this fall.
TJ Jones — WR
Height: 5-foot-11 Weight: 190
Experience: 25 appearances, 19 starts
Stats: 61 receptions, 672 yards, 6 TDs
Irish junior TJ Jones started his career at Notre Dame with a boom and has since gradually slipped into the shadows. As a freshman, Jones caught touchdown passes in each of his first two games — the first time anyone has done that at Notre Dame — and collected 114 receiving yards.
In the 23 appearances he has made since then, Jones has scored a total of four times and added 558 receiving yards. Jones went virtually unmentioned this spring during Notre Dame’s search for receiver talent to replace the record-setting Michael Floyd. Still, he started all but one game as a sophomore and is expected to have a firm hold on the job again during his junior year. While Jones isn’t expected to average a score each game, he can be a part of the solution in the passing game.
“I don’t think you can ask one guy to step into Mike Floyd’s role in this offense and say this is the guy who is going to take over his position, he’s ready to go, and anoint somebody and just hope that he works out,” wide receivers coach Mike Denbrock said this spring. “I think we’re going to get as many guys involved as we possibly can in this thing and use the talents that they bring. We’ve got a lot of talented guys offensively, and we’re going to try to use every one of them.”
A year ago at this time Jones was mourning the death of his father and former Irish linebacker Andre Jones. Despite the fact that his numbers didn’t blossom as a sophomore he said he believes he took some big steps forward in maturity and understanding how to prepare for a full season during the last year.
Jones doesn’t have to become a superstar for the Irish, but he does need to be a big contributor in the passing game. He doesn’t have the size or speed to be a deep threat. Instead, solid route-running and a good knowledge of the offense make him an underneath threat and good possession receiver along the sidelines. Heading into his third year in the Brian Kelly’s offense, Jones should be well prepared mentally to take a step forward.
“It’s a thinking man’s offense,” offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said this spring. “They know the more they understand about defense and how to adjust to certain things versus certain coverages, the more opportunities they’re going to have catch the ball. They’re kind of in control of their own destinies.”
Jones has proven to be pretty good at spotting the holes in a zone and picking up chunks of yardage when needed. Jones and slot receivers Robby Toma or Theo Riddick need to be able to do enough to keep linebackers honest in the flat and the rest of their zones. If they can, that will open up the seams for All-American tight end Tyler Eifert to do some damage.
What’s a Good Season?
Jones may have been underutilized last year while fighting for touches with Eifert and Floyd. This year the spotlight has shifted more toward the backfield with playmakers like Riddick and Cierre Wood primed to carry a big piece of the offensive load.
A good year for Jones, meaning a significant leap from the three touchdowns and 366 receiving yards he had as a sophomore, would be a bonus to the Notre Dame offense this season and a huge help to whoever winds up as the team’s starting quarterback. It shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to think Jones can average between five and six catches per game.
His biggest role might be in providing a consistent chain-moving ability with dig routes and hitches when the offense needs to get the ball outside in a hurry. That’s one role that the bevy of playmakers lined up toward the center of the field won’t be able to fill.