Bucs newcomer Howard Jones eager to build on memorable NFL debut

Howard Jones made a good first impression on the Buccaneers and is hoping to find a way to stick on the roster. Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire

TAMPA, Fla. -- Howard Jones, who had two sacks during his NFL debut two weeks ago, is driven to make the most of his chance to stick with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"Just want to play," he said when asked about his goals. "Get coached and go out there and do it."

Here are four more things to know about Jones, a 6-foot-4, 238-pound defensive end from Shepherd University:

He was recruited to play wide receiver in college. Jones failed to qualify academically for a Division I school, but his time at Shepherd -- a Division II program in Shepherdstown, West Virginia -- allowed him to reinvent himself as a pass-rusher. He arrived on campus as a 185-pound wide receiver, but he gained 50 pounds while at Shepherd and ultimately set the school's career record for sacks with 34.5. He said he knew he could make football a profession when he started to gain confidence as a college player. "In college, when I was making plays, it started to feel like, 'Oh, I guess I could play this,'" he said. "Guys are bigger than you, but it doesn’t mean anything at all. It’s a pretty good feeling."

He found a new beginning with the Bucs. Jones entered the NFL in 2014 as an undrafted free agent with the Pittsburgh Steelers, spending the season on the practice squad. He was with Pittsburgh throughout the most recent preseason before being waived on Sept. 5. The Bucs signed him on Sept. 7 and gave him a $435,000 rookie-level contract. Jones, 25, said the financial commitment "was definitely a good feeling." The Bucs promoted him to the active roster on Oct. 6 after T.J. Fatinikun was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury.

He overcame nerves to perform well at the NFL combine. Jones ran a 4.60 40-yard dash and posted a 40.5-inch vertical jump and 124-inch broad jump. He impressed with his speed and athleticism, despite describing his mindset that day as "nervous."

His small-school background motivates him. Jones admits that not playing at a large school inspires him to make his presence known. "I guess a lot of guys do look down on you," he said, "but then you just put that in the back of your head and just make a play or go do something. It gets you a little angry, yeah. You want to play a little harder." The Bucs' roster includes other small-school products such as wide receiver Donteea Dye, from Division III Heidelberg University, and guard Ali Marpet, from Division III Hobart College.