The most tangible piece of evidence that running back Kevin Jones could return by the start of the regular season was uttered by offensive coordinator Mike Martz on Wednesday.
Jones, who remains on the team's Physically-Unable-To-Perform list (thus being unable to participate in team activities), might even play in the team's season opener against Oakland.
"Yeah I do (think he'll be ready)," said Martz. "I think we are all optimistic about that. I think that Kevin is too. It doesn't mean he is (ready). He is making good progress and we are all anxious to have him back."
Jones has been out since suffering a Lisfranc foot injury last year. His replacement, Tatum Bell, has settled into the starting position nicely with no plans of relinquishing it.
That sentiment is backed by Martz, who admitted that Jones will not be given his job back -- instead, he'll have to earn it.
"He has to come back and compete for his job like anybody else," said Martz. "Nobody has a stake on anything. It's like everywhere else. You've got to come back and get back in football shape and compete with the rest of the backs for that spot."
Martz wouldn't put a time frame on how much practice Jones would need before his first game, either. While he works regularly with team trainers in the continued rehabilitation of his injured foot, Jones cannot partake in team drills -- contact or otherwise -- until his PUP status is lifted.
"You can't plan this stuff," said Martz. "You just cannot plan it. What you have to do is wait until you get him back, then you take it one step at a time because as soon as you start making these plans (they) always get broken. All the sudden he doesn't make the progress you thought he would and all that kind of stuff.
"You just let it go and when he's back, he's back."
Martz did admit that he was excited to welcome back Jones' versatility. Besides his power running style, Jones demonstrated a keen receiving ability last year as well. He hauled in a career best 62 receptions in 2006.
"He's a different back," said Martz. "Not only does he have speed but he is a very powerful back too, he's very strong. He runs through tackles and is a very good player."
"He has really good hands, he really does. I think he proved that last year. I think he understands what to do as a back out of the backfield on pass routes. He is learning the protections which are something he really had to accomplish last year. He had not really been asked to do much of that. Those two phases of it he needs to continue to get better and do them, but he did a real effective job coming out of the backfield last year."