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Jones tries to tighten grip on No. 2 wideout job

It's been written or spoken ad nauseam about the Buffalo Bills heading into the 2012 season.

The team needs to find a new No. 2 receiver.

Not surprisingly, that hasn't sat well with the player who was trusted in that role at the start of last year.

"You start to see things like, ‘They need to draft a receiver.' You see all of those things," said third-year pro Donald Jones. "As a man, as a competitor, I'm out to prove everybody wrong.

"It definitely fuels me."

Coach Chan Gailey has stressed throughout spring practices that his depth chart at this stage of the game is made up of magnets, easily slid up or down. But Gailey did let out this nugget last week when discussing the race for the No. 2 job opposite Stevie Johnson.

"You can ask me about the third week in training camp and I'm going to tell you it's too early. We'll know exactly where we stand and it all works itself out by the time we get to the first ball game. We've got two or three guys that have done a great job," the coach said. "Donald Jones probably a little bit ahead of everybody at this point."

That's as telling as Gailey is going to be right now, but it's a good indication of the confidence level in Jones.

"He does a great job for us because he can do so many different things, whether it be in the blocking game, whether it be on special teams. … He's just a football player," said fellow receiver David Nelson. "He's one of those guys you've got to have because he brings so much to the table,

"He's an amazing athlete. I can't say enough about how well he's done so far and he's going to continue to get better. The more reps he gets, the more playing time he gets, he's going to get better. I think he's going to surprise a lot of people this year."

Jones' versatility has been on display this spring, as he's taken snaps as a slot receiver. That's a role he played some as a rookie, but got away from last season.

"I definitely like it in there, but wherever the coaches need me to play, I'll do that," he said. "Playing in the slot is really about knowing the defense, knowing the coverage. If you can recognize the coverage, you'll be good at it. I'm learning a lot from our defense and what they're doing to me and it helps me out a lot."

Jones was limited to just eight games in 2011 because of a recurring left ankle injury. After suffering a high ankle sprain in October, he missed two games. He got back in the lineup more quickly than expected, but was hurt again in Week 11 during a loss at Miami and ultimately landed on injured reserve. He finished the year with 23 catches for 231 yards.

"It hurt a lot. When you get an opportunity and you get hurt — especially when you get hurt twice — and go down for the season, it [stinks]," he said. "But I'll get the opportunity again and I'll make the best of it.

"In my eyes I am the No. 2 receiver. I'll conduct myself in that manner."

Jones has done that during spring practices, carrying himself with a quiet confidence.

"I think he's finding his niche," Nelson said. "He's shown flashes, and now during this offseason I think he's finally 100 percent healthy. He's got the confidence, he's got the backing of the coaching staff and he's just coming out here and having fun and making plays. I think he's had an amazing camp so far."

Being part of a roster battle isn't new for Jones. He was undrafted coming out of Youngstown State, and fought his way onto the Bills thanks in part to his willingness and ability to play special teams.

He clawed his way up to the No. 2 job in just his second year in the league.

"A lot of people don't know this and he'll probably get mad at me for telling you this, but last year when he got hurt, he was in tears. … It was because he had worked so hard and put so much effort into it," Nelson said. "He had been named that No. 2 guy. He was an outside receiver, everything that he had wanted was finally coming to fruition and he got hurt.

"He was just so frustrated, he felt like he let the guys down. It's so great to see a guy like that actually doing well now, because he works so hard and wants it so bad. It's really rewarding to see that."

* * *

Highlights from Wednesday's practice included WR Derek Hagan making a nice touchdown catch in the right side of the end zone on a good throw from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Hagan also hauled in a nice catch on a deep corner route from Fitzpatrick later in practice. … Third-year receiver Marcus Easley had a good practice. He caught a TD strike from Vince Young over cornerback Isaiah Green in red zone work. Then he caught another one several plays later from Fitzpatrick. … Tyler Thigpen took second-team snaps at quarterback and Young was the third QB. But Young threw the ball a bit better than Thigpen. … The lone interception of the day came from Leodis McKelvin, who caught a rebound of a ball from Fitzpatrick that was tipped by Bryan Scott.

News Sports Reporter Mark Gaughan contributed to this report.