HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. --Thomas Jones looks and sounds ready to play in the New York Jets' season opener against the New England Patriots.
The running back, acquired from Chicago in the offseason, has been practicing this week for the first time since straining his right calf on Aug. 12.
"I feel a lot better than I felt the past couple of weeks," Jones said Wednesday in his first public comments since Aug. 10, when the Jets opened the preseason with a victory over Atlanta.
"The trainers have done a really good job of trying to get me back on the field," he said. "I'm going to practice today, practice tomorrow and go into the game and see how it goes."
Coach Eric Mangini remained secretive, as usual, when asked about Jones' status for Sunday.
"We have a lot of time left," Mangini said. "With all the guys that are nursing injuries or are in that process, you look at it throughout the course of the week and you let it go right until the end of the week. There's a set schedule of what you're trying to get done in conjunction with the trainers, the doctors, the strength and conditioning coach, the player, and we have all those guys on a program."
If cleared to play Sunday, Jones might split carries with second-year back Leon Washington.
"I'm very excited about the opportunity," Jones said. "We have a really good game plan. It's a Patriots game and that's a big rivalry up here, so I'm very excited."
Jones' elusiveness in the locker room earlier in the morning might have served as a clear indication he's feeling fine. He quickly made his way past a throng of reporters to get to his locker, said he had to do a conference call and disappeared into one of the back rooms. About 20 minutes later, Jones re-emerged and spoke with the media for 1 minute, taking four questions before being led away by a member of the Jets' media relations staff.
On the practice field, Jones stretched out his calf, which wasn't wrapped, and took part in other drills before taking handoffs in practice. It's unclear if Jones has been running at full speed or making cuts yet because the media get to see only a half-hour of light drills.
Jones was injured early in camp while doing running back-linebacker drills when he went to plant his right foot and fell. He was examined immediately by a trainer, who wrapped the leg. Jones then limped to the sideline and had a more substantial wrap applied.
He spent the rest of camp sidelined, working on his conditioning while allowing the calf to heal. A day after the injury, Jones' agent, Drew Rosenhaus, told The Associated Press that the running back told him he was "confident he would be ready" in time for the game against New England.
"I've played a lot of football," Jones said Wednesday. "I'm going into my eighth year, so I've been in a lot of games and a lot of situations, so it's nothing new. I did a lot of conditioning and stayed in the playbook, so I'm not at a disadvantage."
Jones rushed for 1,210 yards and six touchdowns while leading the Bears to the Super Bowl, and is expected to jump-start the Jets' running game, which struggled last season. Despite the missed time in camp, Jones isn't concerned about having to adjust to working with a new set of offensive linemen.
"I've been here the whole offseason, so I worked with them a lot during OTAs and minicamps and during the beginning of training camp," Jones said.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press