EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin looked over to the sideline at practice on Monday night -- and he couldn't believe who he saw.
"I saw this real big guy over on the sideline," Coughlin said. "And I said, 'Son of a gun!'
"'Is that Chad Jones?'"
Indeed, it was.
More than 13 months removed from the car accident that left his left leg mangled and his football career in serious doubt, Jones returned to the team's practice facility from New Orleans on Monday night to undergo a physical and meet with the coaching staff. The 22-year-old safety, who has never played a down in the NFL after being selected by the Giants in the third round of 2010 draft, says he's at about "70 percent" right now and hopes to be ready to play by the start of training camp next season.
"I believe I can play football again," said Jones without a hesitation of doubt in his voice. "Ever since the accident happened, I've had that tenacity to be able to overcome adversity."
"It'd be a great, great thing for this kid to be able to come back and play," Coughlin said. "Everybody feels bad for him, but yet you can't miss the attitude he has -- because he's had it since Day 1 when he was laying over in the Hospital for Special Surgery. His attitude was tremendous."
Jones was waived Monday so that the Giants can place him on the reserve/non-football injury list. That means that he will remain with the Giants this season, as long as he clears waivers.
Once practice was over and the Giants huddled in the middle of the field, they gave their teammate -- a teammate who has never given up despite all the obstacles impeding his path toward fulfilling his dream of playing in the NFL -- a hand. And it meant the world to Jones.
"I almost broke into tears," Jones said. "I tried to hold them inside. I did pretty good with that. But it's just a great feeling, those guys congratulating me. It was a great feeling."
Life was was never supposed to be this mentally and physically taxing for the gifted athlete, who played both football and baseball, winning national championships in both, at LSU. But all it took was one crash -- just two months after he was drafted -- for that to change.
On June 25, 2010 while driving in New Orleans, Jones lost control of his Range Rover and slammed into a light pole. During the accident the axel of his SUV snapped, scraping flesh off of his heel and taking out "a big chunk of my thigh like it was Jell-O," Jones told ESPNNewYork.com a year to the day after it happened.
By June 25, 2011, he'd already underwent a dozen surgeries -- a metal rod was inserted through his shin with two screws near his ankle and two screws near his knee cap -- along with 365 days of mental and physical anguish as he re-learned how to stand, walk and jog all over again.
Five weeks ago, Jones needed the use of an anti-gravity "Alter G" treadmill. But now, he's running on a regular treadmill and on regular turf, even exploding during 10-yard sprints. He hopes to eventually get up to a 40-yard dash and even a 100-yard dash -- sooner rather than later.
"It's going good," Jones said. "Only time will tell as far as how my leg (will respond), but I'm going to keep pushing it."
Jones, who weighs 230 pounds (about 10 pounds over his regular playing weight), says he's been doing full body weight squats and can put up to 250 pounds on his back already.
"That's my No. 1 goal," Jones said of getting back on the football field and putting the pads on again. "I still see myself as a Giant. It's motivation seeing all these guys running around me.
"I'm starting to see things fall back into place. It's great being on the field again. It took me a year just to get out here. I'm just continuing to take baby steps."
During a recent examination, doctors told Jones that "everything was looking good, he had great range of motion in his ankle" and that he was "looking even better than the doctors thought I would."
Despite being in a near fatal accident, Jones says he has no fear about driving.
"As a 'DB' (defensive back) on the field you gotta have a short-term memory," Jones said. "And I have a short-term memory that that (accident) happened. I don't have any flashbacks or nightmares. I only think positive thoughts."
Jones was asked if he ever gave any consideration to returning to baseball since it wouldn't be as physically taxing on his body.
"I've been working out and training as a football player," Jones said. "I see myself as a football player with only football on my mind. I eat, sleep and breathe as a football player."
Jones says he's training and doing drills as a safety, but would be willing to play whatever position the Giants ask him to so long as he's back with his teammates again.
He says the whole rehab process has been difficult, more so physically than mentally.
"My knee was locked in a straight position and it took so long for it to bend again," Jones said.
Jones said he plans to continue his rehab in New Orleans because his trainer and doctors are located there, but left open the possibility of moving up to the New York area in the near future.
"Hopefully I'll be to that point where I'll be here soon rather than later," Jones said.
Jones says his never-give-up attitude stems from his ability to remain positive.
And given all he's been through, it hasn't been easy. But he's already gotten this far, so there's absolutely no reason to give up now.
Jones still has hope he'll play football again -- and that hope is all he needs.
"With me having so much trauma to my leg and the injury, it's been on my mind and in my hard, and it's been difficult to overcome," Jones said. "But over time just being around positive people and getting positive texts and emails has helped me overcome those things.
"I've just tried to look at the positive and take the positive out of everything."
Mike Mazzeo is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.