CINCINNATI -- I expected to interview somebody humble today. Instead, he showed us somebody who possesses some cockiness.
I expected somebody who would walk on eggshells. Instead, he showed us somebody who's not afraid to discuss his self-worth or that he's got five percent body fat.
I expected somebody who would be soft-spoken and look to end the interview as quickly and as politely as he could. Instead, he showed us somebody who cracked jokes and seemed to enjoy himself for most of the 15 minutes he talked to the media.
I didn't know Adam Jones -- you know him better, of course, as Pacman Jones -- and didn't expect to be charmed by him. Instead, he proved us wrong.
Everybody loves a story of redemption, right? You know who really loves a story of redemption? Bengals owner Mike Brown. A partial list of players he's tried to redeem: Cedric Benson, Chris Henry, Larry Johnson, all of the draft picks the past few years who have had unsavory off-the-field reputations (a list that could go on for quite a while), and now Jones -- perhaps the biggest redemption project of all.
"It almost like we're the Betty Ford clinic," free safety Chris Crocker said. "When your back is against the wall, and you know it's your last chance, you really see your true colors. Guys know this is it. You're here or you're done."
Perhaps that's why I had a preconceived notion of how Jones would act -- docile and demure. Here's a player who was the No. 6 overall draft pick in 2005 and who established himself as a star the next two years. But he got himself suspended for the entire 2007 season after repeated off-the-field incidents that required police reports and stationhouse interviews. He earned another suspension in 2008 while with Dallas before a season-ending neck injury.
He was supposed to play in Canada last season, but in the end, Winnipeg decided he might be more trouble than he was worth.
|Pacman Jones will try to make a Bengals roster that has 18 defensive backs. (AP)|
"A low profile for Adam Jones is not in America," Jones said when asked if he thought Cincinnati was better than Dallas because the Bengals don't draw as much attention as the Cowboys. "I know there's an eye on me for all times."
If he has a target, it's because he's the one that stenciled it on his back. In response, Jones is going to try to change the way you think about him. He says he's more mature. He says he doesn't hang around with a huge entourage (who might encourage him that, say, making it rain at a Las Vegas strip club is a good idea). Now, he gets off on taking his 4-year-old daughter and fiancée to Disney World.
Most of his cars, he says, are two-seaters. That's by design. It's tough, after all, to fit an entourage in your car when there's no backseat.
"Oh yeah, I did a lot of soul-searching," Jones said, describing what he said was a miserable 2009. "That's why I'm right here talking to you all. I did a lot of soul-searching, I did a lot of corrections, everything. I'm at ease right now. I'm 26-years-old. I can't do the same things I was doing at 21, or I'm going to be dead or in jail."
But does he still have the skills he possessed when he was 21? Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer said today that he sees the first-round athleticism in his newest defensive back, but it's a matter of whether Jones can stay disciplined enough on the field to earn himself a roster spot.
That's no sure thing, considering Cincinnati's roster is filled with 18 defensive backs -- including perhaps the league's best young starting cornerback tandem in Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph. That's why Jones has taken to sitting in the first row of his defensive meetings. He might be cocky, but he also knows that he needs to impress the Bengals decision-makers.
"He's been doing everything we've asked him to do," Zimmer said. "He's receptive. He's coachable. So far, so good. He's making progress. I'm more concentrated that he's learning and trying hard and trying to understand the coverages."
For Jones, he'll have to impress on two levels. He'll have to make Zimmer see why they should keep him on the roster instead of cornerbacks Morgan Trent and David Jones. He'll have to make coach Marvin Lewis understand why he should be the one returning punts and not incumbent starter Quan Cosby or rookie Jordan Shipley. He'll have to prove to Brown that he didn't make a mistake in trying to redeem Jones.
"Point-blank, I know what I have to do as a role model," Jones said. "I know what my job is here, and I know what the coaches expect out of me and I know what the team expects out of me. It's straight to the cut. It's not like Dallas. It's Cincinnati, and I love it. Hey, do your job, don't get in trouble, and you'll be all right."
This, as Crocker alluded, is Jones' last shot -- his Betty Ford moment. I expected a humble man today. Instead, we got his swagger. And I liked it.