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Jets' Jones back in time


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BY TOM ROCK | tom.rock@newsday.com

8:08 PM EDT, September 3, 2007

It was a scene the Jets waited for more than three weeks to witness: Thomas Jones, wearing helmet, pads and full football regalia, taking a pitch from the quarterback, squaring his shoulders and accelerating through a hole in the line of scrimmage.

So what if the .vision wasn't ideal. The quarterback was really just running backs coach Jimmy Raye and the hole was actually next to an upside-down blue garbage can used to depict the offensive tackle. The point is that Jones practiced. And if he practiced, then it stands to .reason that he can play.

Monday, for the first time since he strained his right calf Aug. 12, Jones took part in a Jets workout. He stretched with the team and participated in agility drills with nary a limp or .wobble. Then, while the rest of the squad worked on special-teams plays, Jones and Raye found space in the end zone to refine the timing and footwork that surely rusted just a bit during the convalescence.

Is the calf golden? Hard to say. Jones spent some extra time stretching his lower right leg and showed no ill effects from the injury. But although coach Eric Mangini would not come out and say so, Jones will almost certainly be able to play in Sunday's season opener against the Patriots.

"I'm confident that all the .injured guys will do the best they can to be on the field on Sunday," Mangini said.

Mangini dampened speculation that the reason he kept only two traditional running backs on the 53-man roster -- Jones and second-year player Leon Washington -- is because he expects to have Jones for Sunday. He said wide receiver Brad Smith can take handoffs, as can fullbacks Stacy Tutt and Darian Barnes.

More and more, it's looking as if they won't have to.

As for Jones finding his groove after the layoff, Mangini said he thinks his experience will help him overcome any flat lines in the learning curve.

"The things they can draw on going into a game without that level of practice is much better than, say, if you had a young guy who is in the same situation," Mangini said.

There is also the question of chemistry with the offensive line. Since Jones' injury, rookie Jacob Bender has taken over at left guard. The two presumably never worked together during the opening stages of training camp, when Bender was with the second- and third-string units.

Although Mangini would not confirm Jones' readiness for Sunday, he seemed excited about getting the running back on the field soon. "He has a lot of things that he does well," Mangini said. "He's able to make people miss. He's able to get tough yards."

And from the looks of it, he'll be able to do all of those things against the Patriots.

Notes & quotes: The Jets announced their captains for 2007: Chad Pennington and .Laveranues Coles on offense, Shaun Ellis and Jonathan Vilma on defense, and Mike Nugent and Brad Kassell on special teams. "The guys have already begun putting in their requests for different changes that they want done," Coles said. "It's not one of those things where they elected me just as a token. They really want me to do some work." ... The Jets signed seven players to the practice squad: CB Manny Collins, WR Chris Davis, QB Brett Ratliff, LB Jason Trusnik, OL Robert Turner, S Raymond Ventrone and RB Danny Ware. They have one open spot on the practice squad ... Mangini joked that his hometown of Hartford, about halfway between New York and Boston, has "transitioned heavily to New York, primarily to the Jets" since his hiring.

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