A Winding Road to the NFL
Coming off a string of dominant seasons in the Arena Football League, Tiger Jones—who played most of this year’s Arena regular season with the Philadelphia Soul—has been given a shot at a roster spot on the Eagles. At 5’10” and 30 years old, he’s looking to become perhaps the oldest rookie you’ll see this season. Jones has come upon a rare opportunity, reaching NFL training camp the hard way after jumping around ever since his graduation from Louisville in 2005, and he won’t take it for granted.
Jones was named the AFL’s Cutter’s Wide Receiver of the Year in 2011 while playing for the Dallas Vigilantes, and he was putting up similar, if not better, numbers with the Soul through 16 regular season games, compiling 2,010 receiving yards with 47 touchdowns. Even in the offense and pass-happy AFL, those numbers are ludicrous.
It’s been a long time coming for Jones, who says the other guys vying for open Eagles wide receiver slots are all about 22 to 24 years old. No one else has experienced the same winding journey to training camp, which was made even more complicated due to the nature of Arena Football contracts—in just about all cases they’re for only one year. Thus, Jones has played for five teams in all different parts of the country since 2007. It’s one thing if you’re moving that much while making NFL money, but in Arena, there’s no question that you’ve got to love what you do to sustain a career and keep the dream alive. Jones says he worked on improving his game every off-season, not just to get better, but because he knew there was a new team he’d have to make next season.
Adjusting His Game: AFL Versus NFL
After proving himself as a sort of big fish in a small pond over the past few years, there are plenty of adjustments he has to make to get serious consideration for the Eagles opening day roster. Signed in early July, Jones has had to adapt to the bigger field he hasn’t played on in years (Arena fields are only half as long and are thinner as well), and he’s had to digest an NFL playbook and learn a full new set of running routes in a very brief period of time.
“The Arena game is just totally different from the outdoor game,” Jones says. “Just the route running and the nuances about getting open [are different outdoors] because there are 11 men out there. You have to read blitzes and read different coverages. You know, it’s a little bit of an adjustment just to try to get on the same page as the coaches—what they want. But I think I’m doing pretty good and coming along.”
Jones also commented on how the Arena game is faster than the outdoor game—not commenting on players’ speed, but just on the nature of the game. The NFL has a bigger field and more players, so plays take longer to develop. Quarterbacks have a little more time to throw and receivers have a little more time to get open. Jones says it’s just a matter of realizing these things whenever he goes into a route.
There are other different aspects to the game, like the absence of the wall as a boundary, which makes him feel “a little bit more free,” but he says the core training and the fundamentals are still the same. Both games demand quickness, explosiveness, speed and strength, according to him.