Paul Domowitch: Longshot from Soul giving his all to make Eagles

Tiger Jones (right) dodges Wade Bonner during morning workout. Yong Kim / Staff Photographer
Tiger Jones (right) dodges Wade Bonner during morning workout. Yong Kim / Staff Photographer
Posted: July 27, 2012

BETHLEHEM — He is the longest of long shots. A 30-year-old rookie wide receiver on a team that has wide receivers out the ying yang.

Tiger Jones is a smart man. He knows his chances of earning a spot on the Eagles' 53-man roster in September, or even a spot on the team's practice squad, aren't particularly good.

But how do you say thanks but no thanks to your dream, even if it's come a little late in life, even if nobody is giving you a chance in hell of realizing it?

"I'm going to come out here and compete to the best of my ability," said the 5-11, 195-pound Jones. "I'm going to take a positive attitude and try to not to be satisfied with just being here. It's a long shot, but I'm not the only one taking that long shot. Everybody out here is competing for a job. At the end of the day, we'll see."

A couple of weeks ago, Jones was a very big fish in a very small pond. He was the star receiver for the playoff-bound Soul of the Arena Football League. Now? Now, he's a face in a 90-man crowd at Eagles camp trying to get the coaching staff to notice him.

"He needs to catch our eye," wide receivers coach David Culley said. "But he will get an opportunity. That's the good thing about coach [Andy] Reid and our training camps. When we bring in guys, we will know if they have a chance [to play in the NFL].

“They won't leave here not knowing if they can play, because they're going to get an opportunity."

This is Jones' first NFL training camp. He signed with the Redskins as an undrafted free agent out of college (Louisville), but didn't make it past the postdraft rookie minicamp before they gave him his walking papers. Spent a training camp in Canada with the British Columbia Lions, but didn't make it to the finish line there, either.

He eventually found a home indoors, playing the last four seasons there. Was a first-team all-AFL selection last year and was leading the Soul in every major receiving category when he signed with the Eagles last weekend.

"There's a lot of talent in arena [football]," Jones said. "There are several guys from the arena league that made it [in the NFL]. Me getting the opportunity out here like this, it says a lot about how they feel about us guys in arena."

"Several" might be pushing it, but there definitely have been some arena-to-NFL success stories, including the granddaddy of them all, former supermarket shelf-stocker Kurt Warner, and current Redskins receiver Anthony Armstrong.

But even with the prolific receiving numbers he has put up in arena ball the last 2 years, Jones still might not have been signed by the Eagles were it not for the considerable influence of Soul co-owner and former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski.

"I was blessed to be in a situation with the Soul where you got guys like Jaws who are around and know people," Jones said. "You hear all the time about who you know and who knows you. I think [Jaworski's Eagles connections] had something to do with it, obviously. He was, like, ‘I got this guy over here with the Soul. He's having a great year.' They took an interest and brought me in."

Thirteen wide receivers are in the Eagles' camp. At most, they will keep six, and probably only five. Three of those slots will go to DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant. You probably can put Riley Cooper's name on a fourth again, with Chad Hall, rookies Marvin McNutt and Damaris Johnson and former St. Louis Ram Mardy Gilyard duking it out for any final spots.

Even fellow long shots such as McKay Jacobson, Elvis Akpla and Jamel Hamler have the advantage of at least having spent the spring camps with the Eagles and knowing the offense. Jones got his very first look at his playbook Sunday.

"It's tough on a receiver because of all the things that we do in this offense," Culley said. "It's stuff you have to learn. It makes you a little hesitant early when you're not really sure what you're doing, simply because of the volume this offense requires."

Jones is spending every spare moment with his head in the playbook.

"It's like an encyclopedia," he said. "I'm just trying to dive in and learn as much as possible and just get the concepts down. Once you learn the concepts of the play, it's a lot easier.

“It's concepts and triangles. Once you learn it all like that, it starts to form like a picture. You see it and you can execute it. At the end of the day, though, it's just about playing fast and going hard."

The worst thing you can do when you're scaling a wall is look down. The worst thing you can do when you're a long-shot free agent trying to make a football team is look up.

"They all need to not look at the roster," Culley said. "When you start looking at the numbers, then you can't focus and concentrate on giving yourself the best chance. And the minute you do that, it becomes a distraction.

“You do it, but you can't do it for long. It's human nature to do it. But you're getting an opportunity. You just need to focus on making the most of that opportunity. When you come to practice, you better practice as if you think you're the guy. Because you're not going to get as many reps as those other guys. So you've got to make the most of them. They have to be quality reps."

Jones has ability or the Eagles wouldn't have signed him, particularly given his age.

"The first thing I saw was his quickness and what he could do with the ball in his hands," Culley said. "He was very good with the ball in his hands. The first guy usually wasn't going to make a tackle on him. And I think the same thing will be true at this level.

“Things happen quicker there [in the AFL], so he had a little more room to work. Here, the guys are bigger, stronger, faster. It's a little bit different."

On Saturday afternoon, Jones will participate in the Eagles' first full-contact practice of training camp. On Saturday evening, the Soul will play its first playoff game. Jones has no regrets about his decision, no matter how it shakes out.

"To leave those guys before the playoffs was a bittersweet situation," Jones said. "But an opportunity like this, you can't pass up.

“Dating back all the way to high school, there's always somebody telling you, ‘You can't do this. You're too small. You're too this. You're too that.' But you have to keep it in your mind that nobody can take this away from you. And if you work hard and believe in yourself, you can do anything."

Contact Paul Domowitch at pdomo@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @PDomo. For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' blog at www.eagletarian.com.

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