Jones Working to Put Past Behind Him

Braden Jones didn't get invited to the combine, probably because of a troubled past he hopes to bury with the passing of time, and now he's focused on improving at a relatively new position and using his athleticism at tight end to earn a roster spot.

On pure numbers alone, Braden Jones should have been invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, where he would have stacked up very favorably or beaten most of the tight ends in attendance. But since scouting football players isn't all just physics, Jones had to make an NFL roster by going through the channel of being an undrafted rookie.

"I'd like to think that I would have been drafted because I would have been invited to the combine. Had I gone to the combine and had the exact same workout that I had at my pro day, I would have had the best vertical, the best broad jump, the second-best 40, the first or second-best pro shuttle – I more or less would have had the first- or second-best workout among tight ends and I think I would have gotten drafted," Jones said this summer after a practice at the Vikings' Winter Park facility in which he continued to display his quickness and shiftiness in running routes from the tight end position.

But there were a number of factors that kept Jones from receiving an invitation to the combine. He played at a small college, which was the result of a transfer from Northwestern after he had multiple off-the-field issues.

Those issues, which involved alcohol, are long since in the rear-view mirror, Jones said.

"I think (not getting invited to the combine) was a combination of things," he said. "Coming from a (Division) I-AA school, and then I was told that some of my issues from the past may have come back to haunt me. Three or four years later, you look back and with the way the NFL is these days, even though I've put that behind me and I've done everything that everybody has asked me to do – I've stayed out of all kinds of troubles for the last four years – they still look back there as deep as they can. I'm used to it.

"People that know me realize that I was dumb and immature, and I made some mistakes when I was 19 years old or 20 years old. Now I'm 24 and I've grown up a lot."

Jones left Northwestern in the fall of 2004, a college "career" that was marred by a fight in 2001 at Vanderbilt when he was visiting his brother. He was knocked unconscious in a brawl that's effects left him unable to play for six months. After taking a medical redshirt season, he returned to action at linebacker, where he had the most experience in college. But trouble found him again, and in 2003 he pled guilty to misdemeanor battery charges and unlawful use of a driver's license. He found problems again two more times, one resulting in another conviction for battery.

Since those days of difficulty, Jones transferred to Southern Illinois, switched to tight end and has tried to distance himself from the blemishes of his past. He said the former Northwestern coaching staff (under the late Randy Walker) talked with the coaching staff at Southern Illinois and said "that I was a good kid and I just made some mistakes that were alcohol–related and as long as I resolve that issue, I would be a good guy to have around the team."

He went to counseling and said he is long since past those troubles.

"It was just some bad decisions I made when I was young. More or less, I think it was more a maturity issue than a substance abuse issue. A lot of kids when they are freshman or sophomores in college drink too much and personally I made some bad decisions," Jones said.

That leaves him concentrating on trying to salvage a football career with the Vikings, who signed him as a rookie free agent.

Despite typically running the 40-yard dash in about 4.5 seconds, Jones said the speed of the game at the NFL is the biggest adjustment he had to make in the spring and summer practices with the Vikings.

"The speed of the game is faster," Jones said. "There's a lot of learning. Things are going quick, but I'm doing a fairly good job, I think, getting my nose in the books at night. I've had a few mental busts every once in a while, but … the coaches help out and the adjustment hasn't been too bad."

Ironically, Jones' speed at tight end is probably his biggest asset and has kept him from feeling lost.

While he appears a little shorter than the Vikings' veteran tight ends in Jim Kleinsasser (also listed at 6-foot-3) and Visanthe Shiancoe (6-4), Jones is hoping his athletic ability keeps him in the race for a roster spot.

"I'm sure I'm at the bottom end (of tight ends as far as height), but I wouldn't say I'm short. I'm 6-3 and change, but I think the fact that I've got a vertical that's 40 inches, that kind of makes up for the height thing," Jones said. "I wouldn't say I'm too short. Most of the tight ends are 6-3, 6-5. Dallas Clark, Antonio Gates and guys like that – those guys aren't 6-5."

And so far, his athleticism has made a positive impression on the coaches.

"He's very athletic. He has good speed. He has good ball skills. We're excited with that whole position; it's deep," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said after a spring practice. "Again, we're not making decisions here in June. We're making those decisions late in August, but there is competition there that is going to help us get better and improve all across the board."

As for Jones, if he can have time to develop his skills at tight end, he might eventually have the chance to showcase them on game day. For now, he is looking to put his past behind him and work on the skills he believes will help shape his future.

"I just need to continue improving every aspect of my game. Tight end is a fairly new position for me. I really only played tight end one full year in college. Played linebacker my first three years at Northwestern, went to SIU and my first year there didn't really have a set position – played fullback, tight end and then this last year played all tight end," he said. "So route-running, conditioning is a big aspect because the game is so much faster. Tight ends here especially run so many routes. For a guy that's 250, 260 pounds and you're running, running, running, it wears you out – not like one of those 190-pound wide receivers that can run all day long.

"Right now, I'm just really trying to catch up because these other guys have been here a few years."


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