It was perhaps an unfortunate bit of geography and timing for New York Giants rookie center Brett Jones. The blocking sleds where offensive linemen were doing drills Friday during the first day of rookie mini-camp were located just a few feet from where media members watching practice were situated. There was no barrier between the sleds, the players and the media.
As he went from blocking dummy to blocking dummy, punching each with his hands three times before moving on, Jones was being "corrected" by Giants offensive line coach Pat Flaherty, who wanted the young center to stop dropping his hands between blows.
It was tough love from Flaherty, the veteran offensive line coach. And probably a good sign for Jones. After all, any athlete knows that having a coach get after you and correct your mistakes is better than having one ignore you.
"I've just got to keep working on keeping my hands up. It's been like that in most of the drills," Jones said in the locker room after Friday's workout. "It's just all learning about what's expected of you, and going out and not making those same mistakes twice."
Jones, 23, played for the CFL's Calgary Stampeders the past two seasons. In 2013, he won the league's Most Outstanding Rookie Award. In 2014, he was named the CFL's Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman. He signed a three-year undrafted free agent contract worth $1.575 million with the Giants earlier in the offseason. Jones has no guaranteed money in his deal, so it is a pure UDFA contract. He will have to earn his way onto the roster.
Jones has talent. Make no mistake, though, the adjustment from the CFL to the NFL is one that isn't easy to make. Especially for a center. In the CFL, defensive linemen must stay a full yard off the ball. In the NFL, shading the center with a nose tackle nearly helmet-to-helmet at the snap is part of the deal. CFL fields are wider, meaning there are few defensive linemen who are bigger than 290 to 300 pounds.
"The one yard is definitely a big difference, and the under center snaps. Those are the two key things that the CFL just doesn't do," Jones said. "I've got a lot to work on, definitely."
Because he signed early in the offseason, Jones has been able to participate in offseason conditioning workouts and attend meetings with his veteran Giants teammates. Still, he found the rookie mini-camp to be beneficial.
"Just being able to get out here in mini-camp has been a great advantage for me. I can get out and get a feel for the speed of the game and that no yard with the nose. ... It's just different for the center with the shade being right on top of you," Jones said. "The footwork and the hands have to be a lot faster than they would in the CFL."
Jones figures to be part of the competition for backup spots on the offensive line. Dallas Reynolds has NFL experience at both center and guard. If Jones can learn to play some guard he knows his chances improve.
"I'm assuming I'd have to learn some guard, definitely. I've just been at center so far," Jones said. "As an offensive lineman you want to be as versatile as possible, so if I can play guard and center that would probably be best for me."
Some still consider Jones a long shot to make the Giants' 53-man roster. If he can continue to learn, and Flaherty keeps yelling at him, perhaps that impression will change.