FOXBORO -- Justin Jones hasn't played a snap of competitive football since 2012, but based on sheer size alone he looks like a man ready to play professionally.
The Patriots signed the 6-foot-8, 275-pound tight end out of East Carolina earlier this week as an undrafted free agent. Jones was ruled academically ineligible for his senior season at ECU and finished his college career with 52 catches for 598 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Jones met with local media for the first time on Thursday and said that while a year away from the field was far from his ideal pre-draft scenario, he was able to make the most of his time by working out at CES Performance in Atlanta, getting in shape and polishing his technique.
"I had an opportunity to really focus on the technical aspect of my game," he said. "You know, I can use my body to my advantage and that's all good, but when it comes down to footwork and timing and things like that, I was really able to capitalize on the time off that I had. I was fresh, I'm feeling fresh, and I couldn't be more fresh coming into camp."
Recruited to college by Skip Holtz, Jones said ECU's emphasis on the tight end was diminished when Ruffin McNeill took over and imported a spread offense following Holtz's departure to University of South Florida. Rather than playing a traditional tight end role, Jones explained that he was used more as a slot receiver and an outside receiver.
Now that he's in New England, Jones is excited to be part of a team that appreciates the job of a tight end and the inherent mismatches they can present. He said that he believed the Patriots had interest in him throughout his college career, and he said they had constant contact with him throughout the draft last weekend.
"Oh man, it's honestly, it couldn't be a better fit for me, personally," Jones said. "I don't think it could. All the teams around the league use their tight ends in different ways, but we've all seen the proven system and it works here. Coach [Bill] Belichick loves utilizing the tight end and he believes that we're guys that create mismatches and we can get open and we can use that to the best of our ability."
Jones clearly followed the Patriots as they re-wrote the record books when it came to tight-end production in the NFL. He said he followed Rob Gronkowski's career since Gronkowski was at University of Arizona and Jones called Gronkowski "the best tight end in the league."
During his few days since arriving to New England, Jones has been in the film room at Gillette Stadium trying to pick up as much as he can since he knows the Patriots ask their tight ends to play all over the field.
"Around here, the tight end has to be versatile," Jones said. "Has to be able to play a little bit in the backfield in addition to playing some stand-up as well. Again, it's all something that I believe is part of my toolbox and Coach Belichick believes it's part of my toolbox. If he didn't, then I don't think I'd be in this position."
Jones isn't just a mountain of a man in pads. His workout numbers imply he has plenty of athletic ability within his towering frame. His vertical jump has been measured at 37.5 inches, he can bench press 400 pounds, and he has been clocked with a ridiculously quick sub 7-second three-cone drill (6.96), which would have been tops at the NFL Combine among tight ends.
Until Jones got to high school, he had never played football. Basketball was his sport -- he said he was a two-time All-State selection at Heritage High in Georgia -- and he had some offers to play in college despite never playing on the AAU circuit.
He mentioned on Thursday that his basketball background has helped to give him the ability for fight for jump balls like rebounds.
"It definitely helps teach you a little bit about body control I think," Jones said. "Having a basketball background, even if it's something as simple as a jump ball, which was something I was able to do well in college. It's just like a rebound. That's what I try to tell myself all the time. I grew up a hooper, and I didn't even play football until ninth grade in high school. It's really surreal to just be standing here in a professional football league."