Sunday marked not only the first practice of training camp for Zay Jones, but the first practice of the 2018 calendar year. To say it was a tumultuous offseason for the second-year receiver would be an understatement.
First, there was surgery for a torn labrum in January, an injury he played with through the second half of the season. Second, was the bizarre incident at an apartment complex in Los Angeles that left him bloody and injured. And finally knee surgery in the spring that cost him all of spring practice.
In his first interview with the media, questions gravitated to what happened in L.A. Jones chose not to get into detail, but clearly understands how fortunate he is that he can continue his playing career.
"I'm grateful. I could've lost my life, so I'm grateful to just be here," he said. "To be on the field and to be with my teammates and to see my family. I don't think there's another word to describe it, but grateful and thankful."
Jones, who wore a red non-contact jersey, moved well during individual position drills. He did not take part in the team segments of practice.
“He’s worked extremely hard with our training staff to get himself to where he is now. We’ll just take it one day at a time.” Head coach Sean McDermott
"He's got to continue to acclimate himself like he's been to get himself up to speed so he can continue to take this thing in the right direction," said head coach Sean McDermott. "He's worked extremely hard with our training staff to get himself to where he is now. We'll just take it one day at a time."
Moving past that off field event and two offseason surgeries hasn't been easy, but Jones assures his mental state is perhaps better than it's ever been.
"I wouldn't say gotten back to where I was. I would say excelled and gone further," he said. "Progressed, as a person, human being and a football player. I haven't stayed the same or gotten back to where I was. I've progressed and gotten better."
Jones thanked his athletic trainers with the Bills, who helped him make a return to the field. He thanked his teammates, who he described as family and nothing but supportive. And he thanked Buffalo's front office.
"McDermott and Beane, everyone has been in my corner," Jones said. "This organization brought me here. They know what they have in me and the type of person I am and the character I uphold and the type of player I am. I don't think they would've drafted me if they didn't believe that. I'm grateful to be here with this organization. I want to see this organization move in the right direction and win ball games and that's what I'm here to do."
"I’m grateful to be here with this organization. I want to see this organization move in the right direction and win ball games and that’s what I’m here to do.” Bills wide receiver Zay Jones
The receiver admits he has some catching up to do with the scheme, but he's spent a great deal of his time off the field mastering Brian Daboll's offensive scheme from a mental perspective.
"The film study, understanding the playbook schematically. And I've had a lot of time to step back and understand all of it. I would say I'm progressing in other areas. Obviously, I haven't had that time on the field, but all that stuff is going to come eventually."
And as important as it will be for Jones to learn how to play with each of the three quarterbacks on Buffalo's roster, Jones sounds like he's already learned his most important lesson from this offseason.
"Sometimes life is going to knock you down or things aren't go the way you planned or hoped. But you have to pick yourself up and you've got to keep moving forward," said Jones. "In no way am I going to feel sorry for myself. There are a lot of other people with far worse situations than mine, dealing with real life issues and battling through things, losing loved ones and things like that. So I have no excuse, but to pick myself up and keep moving forward with all the adversity that's happened to me. That's what I've learned. To be a man."