Senior captain TJ Jones has an expanded role for Notre Dame this year. He’s Tommy Rees’s go to option in the passing game taking the torch from Tyler Eifert and he’s added the responsibility of punt returning this year as well. One game into the season and its so far, so good. So very good in fact.
Jones has been a regular in the Notre Dame passing game since arriving on campus as an early enrollee in 2010. Jones stormed into action as a frosh with touchdowns in each of his first two games. Since then he has slowly and steadily improved each season.
That improvement may have taken an upward trajectory Saturday as Jones had his best game in an Irish uniform against Temple in the season opener eclipsing 100 yards for the first time in his career with 6 catches for 138 yards.
“It’s just a good feeling to finally break it. I know I got close and it’s kind of a burden over my head, something that you want to break as a receiver,” Jones said after the game. Jones had 90 yards in two contests last year – Wake Forest and Alabama.
Jones outburst was part of a Notre Dame offensive performance that put up 550+ yards on Temple. “It’s a strong start for us. It definitely gives us confidence going into next week and the rest of the year,” said Jones. “It showed glimpses of what we can be and the greatness we can achieve.”
The glimpses Jones referred to were the points Notre Dame left on the field Saturday. Despite wracking up over 500 yards, the Irish offense had an opportunity to put up much more than the 28 points they scored after several promising drives stalled due to some poor execution at times.
Jones also showed glimpses of what he can do in his new role as a punt returner. Jones returned three punts for just 23 yards. Nothing too out of the ordinary. When you consider that Notre Dame gained 46 yards returning punts total in all 13 games last year, however, that number looks like a pretty solid start considering Jones is returning punts for the first time in his career.
Despite the solid start, Jones isn’t quite satisfied with his work as a returnman.
“Definitely room to improve,” Jones said of his performance as a returner. “I don’t know why I kept tripping. It was aggravating. But I did save some of the hidden yards by picking up those balls. I’m going to be as aggressive as I was today next week and the weeks to come. And I’m going to work on picking up my feet when I run.”
Jones did field one punt that he probably shouldn’t have and let another go that he should have caught, but other than that he showed enough for Notre Dame fans to at least be excited about punt returns for the first time in a while.
What was most exciting about Jones on Saturday though was watching him with the ball in the open field. Jones has always been good after the catch throughout his career. On Saturday, though, Jones was exceptional after the catching displaying a newly found gear we haven’t seen from him in the past.
Notre Dame is going to spread the ball around more this year, but it is pretty clear that Jones is going to be their go to playmaker. “TJ Jones is going to be in the mix every single week, because he’s one of the best wide receivers in the country,” Brian said of his senior wide receiver.
The accuracy of Tommy Rees and the chemistry the two have built over the last three years were on display Saturday. “You know Tommy and I lived together for two and a half years. We came in together so we have a connection we’ve had time to build on since we enrolled, and today I think a little bit of that was shown as well as the play calling came my way,” said Jones.
Rees did spread the ball to seven different receivers, but Jones was the only one with more than 3 receptions. Hopefully for Notre and Jones he is able to replicate this week’s performance when the Irish travel to Ann Arbor and try to exorcise the demons from their last trip to the Big House.