Bills head coach Chan Gailey said that come Week 1 of the NFL regular season he'd have starting roles determined, and that was the case Monday at wide receiver. Second-year wideout Donald Jones confirmed that he won the number two receiver job opposite Stevie Johnson.
"I've definitely been told that I'll be the 'Z' or number two receiver," said Jones. "It wasn't a shock. I kind of knew for a while, but nobody else knew."
Having that knowledge put Jones' mind somewhat at ease over the past week, knowing he couldn't practice or play in the team's last two preseason games after suffering a concussion against Denver. Now fully cleared to practice and play Jones is excited about the opportunity to be a major contributor on offense.
"It's a great honor to be a starter in the NFL now," he said. "It took a lot of work to get here and there's still a lot of work to be done. It's hard to get here and it's even harder to keep it so I've got a lot of work ahead of me."
Jones developed a rapport with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in the second half of the season last year as a rookie after Roscoe Parrish was lost to a season-ending injury. He and Fitzpatrick only built upon that foundation this past offseason, which gives Buffalo's signal caller a ton of faith in the second-year player.
"I'm really excited about Donald and it was unfortunate that he didn't get to play the full preseason with the injury, but he's going to surprise a lot of people this year," said Fitzpatrick. "He's a talented guy and I think we saw some glimpses of what he could do last year. He's one of those guys that I've got so much confidence in from what we did last year, from all the stuff we did this offseason and then with what he did at camp, he was maybe our best receiver at camp just in terms of the consistency and the way that he played every day."
Jones has always had the physical ability to excel as an outside receiver. There was just one element to his game that hadn't surfaced until now. An element that Fitzpatrick believes is the biggest change in Jones' game.
"Confidence," said Fitzpatrick. "He's not just a special teams guy now. Last year I think he made the team because of how physical he was and what he did on special teams. Now being our starting receiver he's got more confidence. It's hard to come in as an undrafted rookie and have that confidence and swagger about you. But some of the things he did last year and with what he's done this offseason he's been able to gain that confidence and he carries himself well. He's going to be a playmaker for us."
Lining up opposite Stevie Johnson on the outside, Jones realizes the burden is on him and the other receivers to pull attention away from Johnson. It's a situation not unlike the one Johnson was in a year ago after he earned a starting receiver job. "I definitely feel a lot of defenses will double team Steve or rotate to his side, so it'll be on me, Roscoe and David (Nelson) to keep the pressure off of him," said Jones. "So I feel like I can definitely put up numbers (like Johnson did) and Fitz has the confidence in me to get me the ball. I can definitely put up those numbers that he did last year and hopefully he puts up the same numbers and we'll all have Pro Bowl type years."