ALAMEDA – Zay Jones has spent the last two weeks in a small, small world. He goes from the Raiders training facility to a nearby hotel and back again, intently focused on mastering Jon Gruden’s complex offense.
Most members of the Silver and Black learn it over time during spring and summer, a great distance from the regular season’s do-or-die existence. Jones is learning on the fly after being acquired in a trade from the Buffalo Bills two-plus weeks ago, without time to do or think about much else.
“I think sometimes people can forget about the transition that comes with a trade,” Jones said on this week’s Raiders Talk podcast. “It’s your entire life that moves in a flash. Trying to find a place to live while focusing on the playbook. There’s hotel living while trying to get up to speed. It’s a blessing to be out here in Oakland. It’s a completely different vibe, but I really like it.”
He spent the entire bye week in a meeting room with Gruden, receivers coach Edgar Bennett and offensive quality control coach Nick Holz sprinting towards availability in last week’s game at Green Bay. His debut didn’t come then. but Sunday’s game at Houston should be his first in Silver and Black and, after a three-week crash course, Jones is ready to contribute.
He’s ready to move forward from a trying period in his life that he considered a shock to the system. Jones has pondered the sudden life change and the impact of leaving a Bills organization that drafted him out of East Carolina.
“It has been a lot. I really feel like I poured my heart into that organization,” Jones said. “I tried to give them everything I possibly could. I believed in it. I was bought in. Being realistic, the transition can be difficult sometimes when you pour a lot into one organization and then you quickly switch to another one. You have to understand the nature of the business and how it goes. I built some relationships I know I’ll have for a long time, but I’m looking forward to creating those types of bonds and relationships with the people here.”
While the transition isn’t always easy, Jones is assimilating quickly to the scheme and locker room culture. He’s getting through this adverse situation by relying on a mentality forged as an underrecruited talent with one scholarship offer that has carried him through difficult times.
“There have always been little knocks on me,” Jones said. “The one constant through all that is my ability to fight through adversity and the heart I’ve had. Challenges will be thrown your way. There will always be setbacks. There are going to my failures. There will be more in the future. Sometimes things won’t work out exactly as I’d like, but I know the type of player and person I am and the ability I have. I want to be successful above all else. That’s my mindset and the way I approach the game.”
That’s the way he battled through ending up with one scholarship offer-- none from his home state of Texas -- to set FBS records at East Carolina. That’s how he battled through some on-field struggles after turning pro. That’s how he kept eyes forward and carried on after an embarrassing incident in Los Angeles last year where his brother allegedly prevented him from jumping out of a window that made TMZ headlines no one wants. That’s how he has approached the initial disappointment of getting shipped from Buffalo, morphing it to a grand opportunity to help his new Raiders team.
Jones faces setbacks head-on and tries to improve as a person and/or player, learn from mistakes and become better for it.
“Sometimes life is going to hit you in the face,” Jones said. “There are going to be things you didn’t expect. Some things you wanted and didn’t get immediately. It’s about staying true to who you are and what you said you’re going to be. That has been the type of person I am. I have had my setbacks on and off the field. I would be lying to you if I said it didn’t bother me, but knowing how to shelf that and come back and attack each day trying to get better, that’s how I am and that’s what has been instilled in me by my parents. They are resilient people. They have had their highs and their lows, but they wear and smile and go to work. That’s what I want to mimic. No matter what happens, I’m going to keep working.”
His current goal is to maximize this opportunity with the Raiders. He’s under contract through the 2020 season and he wants to establish himself as a reliable target and major contributor both here and in Las Vegas next season. It’s important to show well for a team that sought him out in trade.
“It’s always good to be wanted, to be in a place like this,” Jones said. “They could’ve chosen hundreds of other players but they chose me. I’m grateful for that, but that fact in itself doesn’t guarantee anything. You still have to put the work in. You still have to go out on the practice field and put the hours in and grind. I’m just trying to be me, to be free to be myself and enjoy the opportunity that I have been blessed with and seize the moment. That’s all I can do. I know that, if I give my best every single day, that will be enough.”