As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense was leaving the practice field, swarms of people were gathering around defensive stars Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly.
Almost no one paid attention to No. 61, Tim Jones.
The former star USF defensive lineman entered his second season in the Bucs training camp hoping to cling to a roster spot – an opportunity that came after the team held its final opening specifically for him.
“I sat at home waiting for a phone call and I got one,” Jones said. “It was a blessing because it’s right here in Tampa, my home. It was exciting. I live in Tampa and my wife and son are in Tampa, so it worked out.”
Just having an opportunity to prove he can play professionally is enough for Jones, who doesn’t mind being somewhat unknown after spending a year in NFL Europe with the Amsterdam Admirals.
On the team’s official Web site, there is a shadow figure instead of a regular picture, and just his basic stats of height, weight, school and birth date.
Although most fans probably don’t know who Jones is, the Bucs are well aware of his potential.
“He’s got football talent, and I know he’s going to get a chance to play in this game,” defensive line coach Larry Coyer said. “It’s his opportunity and he should seize it.”
Jones made a name for himself while with the Bulls from 2001-03. He shares the team record for most tackles for a loss in a game with five, along with George Selvie, a Scripps/FWAA Freshman All-American defensive end last season and Kawika Mitchell, a linebacker with the New York Giants.
“Tim was a very gifted athlete that could have gone to Miami when we recruited him here,” USF defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said. “It’s a great opportunity for him. I hope he can take advantage of it and do well over there and make the team.”
This year marks the second go-round for Jones, who was brought into rookie mini-camp last year but was cut as Tampa Bay trimmed its roster down to the NFL maximum of 53 players.
Coyer said the best way to secure a roster spot is to
perform well on special teams, and said Jones, as one of 87 Bucs in camp, has that ability.
“To make a football team, if you’re not a starter, you’ve got to be a factor on special teams,” Coyer said.
When given an opportunity, the man with the ordinary name has shown flashes of extraordinary talent.
“It’s surprising, he’s quicker than I would have expected,” defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. “He’s an interesting guy – he’s not just some camp guy to fill out a roster, he’s definitely a prospect.”
Even though Kiffin indicated Jones must continue to improve in order to make the roster, other players in his position have been able to do so.
“Chuck Darby is the best example – he was the starting nose tackle of the Super Bowl team in 2002,” Kiffin said. “He walked in and, one day before camp started, got the last spot. He ended up starting and got a Super Bowl ring.”
Like Jones, Darby got his start in NFL Europe, spending the 2000 season with the Barcelona Dragons before signing with Tampa Bay the following year. Darby landed a three-year deal with a base salary of $1 million for the 2007 season with the Seattle Seahawks.
Knowing that this year is his best opportunity to break into the league, Jones hopes to capitalize on his second chance.
“It was exciting to come out here in training camp to show what I can do,” Jones said. “It’s been a journey trying to learn from the guys who have been around for awhile. Just another opportunity; when you get an opportunity you have to shine.”