Orchard Park, NY -- The way the 2011 season ended for the Buffalo Bills, especially with who was starting down the stretch for them at wide receiver, many looked to that grouping as one of the team's core needs this off-season.
The team flirted with the idea. They had Robert Meachem in for a visit on the opening day of free agency before he ultimately signed with the San Diego Chargers. Notre Dame wideout Michael Floyd was rumored to be a potential first-round target for the Bills in April's NFL Draft.
The Bills even pulled the trigger in the third round, selecting N.C. State pass-catcher T.J. Graham to come in and compete for a spot in the normal rotation. People have pointed to Graham, third-year player Marcus Easley and David Nelson as some that could possibly fill the void.
The one person that most aren't talking about?
Last year's opening day starting receiver opposite Stevie Johnson and former undrafted free agent Donald Jones.
"I shouldn't even be saying this though, but Donald is gonna be the one who is gonna turn some heads," Stevie Johnson boldly said during the final week of Organized Team Activities. "We moved him inside to the slot and he's looking real good. He's got a perfect body for it. The power to get open and get separation, I think he's gonna have a great season and I think we'll be alright because he'll be able to open it up more."
Jones had a handle on the job in just his second season in the NFL, but saw that slip through his fingers due to a pair of ankle injuries. The first of which is one he suffered against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 5, only to return to action against the New York Jets in Week 9.
The stint of partial health only lasted three games, before Jones suffered another ankle injury -- this time of the season-ending variety.
"Yeah, it was definitely hard," Jones admitted. "Last year was rough. I had the ankle injuries, it was tough. I had the number two spot, and then I got hurt. So it was definitely rough to have to watch the team for the rest of the year, but I'm moving forward now."
Not only is the Youngstown State product moving on, but he's doing so as the current favorite to land the same job he held last season. It's early, but head coach Chan Gailey told reporters Monday that Jones had a leg up.
"We’ll know exactly where we stand and it all works itself out by the time we get to the first ball game," he said. "We’ve got two or three guys that have done a great job. Donald Jones probably a little bit ahead of everybody at this point."
With only 23 receptions in eight games last season, many had wondered aloud what the appeal to Jones was. While he has a great frame for the position (6-feet-0, 209-pounds), drops have been the main reason some point to for his downfalls.
That's why when those who follow the team were hoping for a new number-two option, Jones paid no attention to it.
"It just motivates me," he said. "The media and everybody, they don't really know what's going on behind the scenes. All I worry about is what the coaches are saying, what the team knows and that's all I worry about."
Without having a second receiver with the type of name recognition preferred by some, Johnson thinks this could be the year Jones carves his niche in Buffalo.
"Yeah, I believe so. I believe so," Stevie started. "It's just how we work him in the rotations. We'll have Donald outside, then we bring in a different group and he'll go to the inside. We'll have [Derek] Hagan on the outside, it's just how we're switching it up. We're attacking them in so many different ways and Donald's skill set is allowing us to do that."
It's not exactly a rare phenomenon for virtually unknown wide receivers to pop up and have a great season in the NFL. Jones has two players that it's happened to recently in his very own group of friends.
Not only is he teammates and friends with the Bills' most recent breakout wideout Stevie Johnson, Jones is good friends with New York Giants' fan favorite Victor Cruz. A remarkable 82 receptions, 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns later, and Cruz became the toast of the league.
"Once you get your chance, you just make the most of it... those guys did that," Jones said. "I got my chance last year. Unfortunately I got hurt but I'm gonna get another chance this year, and I'll definitely make the most of it this year and have the same year those guys had."
While those are rather lofty expectations, the wideout certainly has the inside track to be on the field in bunches this year for the Bills. Now it's up to Jones, as he puts it, to capitalize on the opportunity.
The Bills have one more day of OTA's, and then their off-season workouts conclude after next week's three-day mandatory mini-camp extravaganza.