This is the third in a series previewing each position on the Buffalo Bills before the July 25 start of training camp.
All signs point to improvement this summer for Zay Jones.
The Bills’ third-year receiver had a well-documented, miserable offseason in 2018. He didn’t run one pass route or get one practice repetition before training camp because he was recovering from surgeries on his shoulder and his knee. The latter came after Jones was hit in Los Angeles with a vandalism charge, which was dropped.
Jones missed the first week of training camp because of the injuries, and he had a predictably slow start to the 2018 season.
This offseason, Jones had a full winter and spring of training, aside from sitting out the last few days of spring practice with a sore hamstring. He looked noticeably bigger in the upper body.
The Bills’ strength and conditioning staff awarded him a trophy for having the most improved overall body composition on the team.
“He's been great,” said Bills receivers coach Chad Hall. “I think he's gained about 10 pounds. And this is his first real offseason, because last year he didn't have an offseason because he was injured.
“So this year, he really got to work on his body, on his craft, and it's been great. And he's just grown. He's just become more mature. And being around these guys now – John Brown, Cole Beasley, Andre Roberts – it's just been great for him. ... He's made huge strides and I think he really took a big step this offseason.”
How will the improved conditioning help the 6-foot-2, 201-pound Jones on the field?
“That entails things like using your hands more, being more physical at the point of attack, being able to high-point catches,” Jones said. “Being more physical and dominant in the run game. It was tough when you were playing with a bum shoulder or a bum knee, whatever it is. Now that I’ve had that time to heal up and add more strength and add more size, I’m looking forward to being able to go out and compete even at a higher level.”
Jones led the Bills last season with 56 catches for 652 yards and seven touchdowns.
He will need to solidify his position as the No. 2 outside receiver on the team in training camp and preseason. John Brown is the Bills’ new No. 1 outside receiver, and Cole Beasley is the primary man in the slot.
That means Jones will need a good summer to keep from losing snaps to Robert Foster.
There figures to be plenty of snaps to go around for the Bills’ top four receivers, because the offense plays a lot of three-receiver formations.
Still, if everyone stays healthy, Jones probably will be on the field less than the 89 percent of the snaps he played last season. On the other hand, the Bills hope their passing game is a lot more productive and efficient this season.
Jones had an encouraging late-season surge last year, catching 19 passes for a 13.7-yard average and five TDs in the last five games.
How much will his added size and strength help him gain initial separation and be a more valuable target for Josh Allen?
That will be something to watch when the Bills hit the field at St. John Fisher College.