If there is such a thing as a ‘breakout star’ after six seasons in the NFL, then Green Bay Packer James Jones is surely it. The Pack’s rangy receiver is in the midst of a career year, having caught eight touchdown passes from perennial All Pro quarterback Aaron Rodgers in nine games. With injury afflicting the team’s deep receiving corps, he has evolved into a game-changing outside playmaker when the storied Packers’ franchise needed him most.
Despite a wobbly start, Green Bay sits 6-3 in the NFC North - one and a half games back from surprise leaders Chicago but perfectly poised for a deep post-season run. On the heels of a four-game win streak, James tells us that’s right where the team wants to be as it enters the bye. And with last year’s stunning post-season letdown fresh in their minds, he reckons Wisconsin’s finest are playing with renewed focus in 2012.
As Election Day unfolded across America, James also let us in on what Aaron Rodgers is really like in the huddle, explained why he’d call his fantasy football squad Team Lightning - and even ventured to tell us who he’d be voting for later in the day.
James, you have to be excited about the way this season is going for you personally and for the Packers as a team…
JJ: Definitely. We had a couple of tough losses early on but we’ve bounced back and won four straight and we’re in a good position going into the bye. As for me, I’m just making the most of my opportunities. I feel like I’ve been playing well and people are seeing me make more plays.
Are you surprised to be looking up at Chicago as the leaders of the NFC North?
JJ: No, we’ve seen all the moves they made in the off-season, and that’s a good football team. But the thing is they’re in our division and we get another shot at them. When we play them again (on December 16th) it’ll be a very big game.
You beat them fair and square the first time you played…
JJ: Yeah we beat them the first time in our place. But it’ll be a lot tougher in their home town. We just need to mentally play our best game and not turn the ball over - that’s the key. We’ll be ready to play our best.
You were in the press this week talking about improving your in-game focus by lecturing yourself out loud. Tell us about that…
JJ: You know it’s mentally for myself, I talk to myself the whole game. There are so many weapons on this team, you never know when you’ll get the ball - in the first quarter, the fourth quarter or what. So I tell myself: ‘Stay ready!’ Even if I catch five in a row I keep talking, and stay focused. Sometimes defenders hear me and wonder what I’m doing, but I don’t answer them!
Let’s get to some Twitter questions now. Robert Warren says: ‘James, it’s great to see your production this year, and I was delighted to see you stay in Green Bay over the off-season. Did you always want to stay?’
JJ: I did. I got drafted by the Packers and it felt like home straight away. I wanted it to be home for the rest of my career too. It’s not always up to the players in this business but I’m glad I’m there and hopefully I will be forever. Just to be part of the tradition, the fans and the history… you’re just honored every time to be a part of it.
Monie asks: ‘There were occasions in the past when you and Aaron Rodgers didn’t always seem on the same page - was that a part of the focus issues you’ve talked about? And what’s changed this year?’
JJ: I think the number one thing is I’m getting into games a lot more. Chemistry and things like that come with more opportunities. Aaron really spreads the ball around, and in the past there have been so many of us rotating in - you’re in, and then you’re not in - that it’s been tough to get in sync. But I’ve had the chances, and we’re in sync now.
Stuart Shelvin writes: ‘James, can we please make sure you’re wrapped up in cotton wool? The last thing we need is you getting injured as well (with Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings already suffering)…’
JJ: Ha! There’s nothing I can do! I just hope I stay healthy, but we’ll be getting those guys back soon. I’ll just go out there and play the best football I can in the meantime.
MilsterMaid asks: ‘James, will you be voting in the election today - and who will you vote for?’
JJ: Yes I will. I think I’ll be voting for… Barack.
Daniel Johannsen wonders: ‘If you could sum up Aaron Rodgers’ demeanour in the huddle in five words, what would they be?’
JJ: Cool. Calm. Relaxed. All the time. He’s relaxed because of the way he prepares. He watches hours and hours of film and that gives him that confidence.
And Tom Crouch asks: ‘James, do you actually enjoy the Lambeau Leap? And do you follow the Premier League (soccer) at all?’
JJ: I love the Lambeau Leap - besides getting beer spilt on you! I don’t follow the Premier League but I do watch football a little bit - like in the Olympics. I’ve played a little bit for fun in a few tournaments too, but I’m not very good.
Let’s talk fantasy football for a moment. Does anyone on the team play?
JJ: Yes, a couple of our offensive linemen play - it gets real intense. Some of them will come and say to me sometimes: ‘I need a couple of touchdowns!’
How on earth do we figure out each week which Packers receiver will have a big game?
JJ: Oh man that’s tough. When you get a Packers wide receiver on your team I’d say you have a 50/50 chance. You never know which one is going to have a big day because we have five good receivers and a really good tight end too. I think, really, it comes down to having a little bit of luck.
Pick your perfect NFLUK fantasy team for us comprising one quarterback, two receivers, two running backs, a tight end, kicker and a defense…
JJ: My team would be Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. Receivers I’d take Calvin Johnson and Julio Jones. Running backs, it would be Arian Foster and Matt Forte. Tight end I’d like Rob Gronkowski. A kicker I’d have to have, let me see, David Akers? And then I’ll take the Bears defense.
Because you’ve seen up close what they can do?
JJ: Yeah, they get a lot of turnovers and are scoring a lot of points on defense. That has to be good for fantasy.
And what will you call your team?
JJ: I’d call it Team Lightning, because that’s my son’s middle name.
Let’s get back to the Pack. There was a feeling on the team you beat yourselves in last year’s playoffs after an incredible 15-1 regular season. How will this year be different?
JJ: I think what happened last year is still in the back of everyone’s minds. If we’re blessed enough to get into the playoffs, we’ll be more prepared, and not just think: ‘We’re the Green Bay Packers and we can run over anybody.’ I think we underestimated our opponent a little bit last year. So we’ll be very focused and very ready to play.
What’s your enduring memory of winning the Super Bowl a year before?
JJ: It was a dream come true. You think back to your journey, all the games you’ve played through your life, to watching Super Bowls on TV, to finally being a part of it. And then to win… When the confetti starts falling you have tears of joy.
And talking of dreams, do you ever dream of ‘James Jones, Super Bowl MVP’? Or of making the last-second touchdown catch to win it all?
JJ: I do dream about it every once in a while, about getting that game-winning catch or being the MVP. But we’ve got to concentrate on getting there first - and then we’ll see.
To find out who’s up next in our Team Talk interviews, keep an eye on @NFL_UK and @MikeELawrence on Tuesday afternoons. You can submit questions for our next interviewee on Tuesdays @MikeELawrence.