ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- It was Marvin Jones' second year in the league and he was confused. One week he’d be a focal point of the offense, getting a bunch of work, making big plays and scoring touchdowns. Then the next week he’d barely be used -- running under 20 routes and barely getting the ball.
The second-year player out of Cal, the guy who was taken by the Bengals a year after A.J. Green, was struggling with the inconsistency of his play and how he was being used. Jones went to his coaches searching for answers. And Hue Jackson would try to help.
“He would always just be like, ‘Hey, you’re playing great. Just don’t get wrapped up in thinking. Just play,'" Jones said. “Just do you, and once you do that, everything is going to happen how you want it to happen, and everything happened exactly how I planned it to happen, you know.
“Everything that I wanted ended up coming to fruition and stuff like that. That’s what you have to tell young players. Like, 'Hey, you do this and you keep doing what you’re doing, keep being successful and in the back end it’s going to help you.'”
Jackson was right. Jones has been successful -- first in Cincinnati and then the past two seasons with the Detroit Lions. This year might be Jones’ best yet, as his 33 catches and 515 yards put him on pace for career-highs in both areas. And on Sunday, coach and pupil will see each other again as opponents for the first time.
Jackson is coaching the Cleveland Browns, and he knows the type of player Jones was, Jones is and Jones could be.
“He’s so competitive. He wants to be the best,” Jackson said. “There’s a burning desire to be the best. I know my time with him in Cincinnati, and we all have great respect for A.J. Green and what A.J. Green has done in his career, but I know Marvin feels he can do that and then some.
“He just has that fire, and he loves to play, and again, he’s fun to watch.”
For Jackson, of course, watching Jones might not be so fun Sunday. Jones has discovered more of his game the past three weeks as the Lions have taken more chances with passes downfield. He has had back-to-back 100-yard games -- 4 yards away from three straight 100-yard games. He has scored five touchdowns already this season.
And he has become a matchup problem for opponents as Matthew Stafford and Jones have learned more about each other in their second season together.
But a lot of Jones’ early progression was helped along by Jackson. Jones said Jackson was strict offensively with how he wanted things run, but that he would always explain things to Jones openly and honestly.
That included in 2013, when Jones saw radical swings in the way he was used in the offense. He caught four touchdowns in 13 routes against the Jets one week. Two games later, he caught one pass for 2 yards on 43 routes against Baltimore and saw his routes drop to 16 the next week.
For a young player, that can be difficult. Jackson helped him understand it.
“Stuff like that, being a rookie, being a second-year player, stuff happens, and you don’t know why,” Jones said. “He was instrumental in just keeping me there, and he was somebody everybody could go to. I can’t really point to one thing, but he was just always there for us.”
While he couldn’t point to one thing, he did take something Jackson instilled in him from Cincinnati to Detroit: how he practices. Jones said that Jackson ran offensive practices hard. He’d push until he had gotten everything out of his players. That level of focus became important. It helped Jones mature as a player and understand how to be successful in the NFL.
And it helped him adapt to the Lions, where he said the intensity levels are similar to a Jackson-run practice.
“He got everything out of us to where there was nothing left. In practice, he would say, ‘OK, everybody runs, so if somebody’s handed the ball, everybody has to run down the field until you clear the last defender and the last lineman, too,” Jones said. “So all of our practices, they were so hard, and it [contributed] to the development of all of us. The way that we practiced and the demand that he had, I think that kind of shaped us and stuff like that, and the habits in practice, you know.
“It was great, and when I came here, it was extraordinary as well. It’s not like I came here and I’m like, ‘Oh, I don’t have to do anything, I’ll just have to run it off.’ I kept those same habits that we did with Hue here, and that’s what we do here anyway.”
Those habits have paid off. It has left his old coach joking -- we think -- about how he’ll try to stop him this weekend.
“I’m going to start praying here in a second. That’s the first thing I’m going to do, because he’s just that talented,” Jackson said. “We’ve got our hands full with him. The guy can run.
“There’s not a catch he can’t make. He can make acrobatic catches. He can make the tough catch. He’s a really good football player.”