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Jets welcome RB Jones, who reports to practice despite contract dispute

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Mark Sanchez heard a lot about Thomas Jones' reputation for being a workout warrior. Still, the New York Jets rookie quarterback's eyes widened when he saw his new bulky running back for the first time.

"He's a stud, man," Sanchez said of Jones on Thursday. "I asked the guys before, and they said, 'You'll know him when you see him.' I came in, and he's just massive, rocked-up, chiseled. It's huge to have a back like that, that demands that kind of respect in your running game."

Jones rejoined his Jets teammates Wednesday after boycotting voluntary workouts while in a contract dispute. Whether an agreement for a new deal is in place isn't known because last season's AFC rushing leader stiff-armed the media Thursday after practice. He fittingly remained in the weight room during the hour of media availability in the locker room.

"He reminds me of myself the way he's built and all that kind of stuff," Jets coach Rex Ryan said with a laugh. "But it's great to see him, it really is. I've always respected the kind of player he is and all that, and just to see him up close, that wow, this guy, he really is built like that. ... He told me he's happy to be here, and I told him I'm certainly happy that he's here. That's exciting to have him back here."

Jones, selected for his first Pro Bowl last season after rushing for 1,312 yards and 13 touchdowns, is entering the third year of a four-year, $20 million deal. The contract was front-loaded with $13.1 million over the first two seasons, and he's scheduled to make just $900,000 in base salary this season.

Jones also is due a $3 million roster bonus next March, so the 30-year-old running back likely is seeking some long-term financial security.

"It is a business, and you've got to take care of yourself," said Jets center Nick Mangold, also a Pro Bowler. "It's great that he's back, and whatever he's got to do, he's got to do. I know T.J. the person, he's not going to let himself go and he's going to keep working, no matter where he is."

Jones' teammates had some fun when he reported for practice Wednesday.

"It's not my place to ask him, and I don't think it's necessary for him to explain himself," Mangold said. "You do have to give him a little gruff when he got back. I introduced myself to him as if he was a new guy, so there's a little bit of joking going around.

Added right tackle Damien Woody: "I said, 'Welcome back, Eddie George,' because he's so big. He's been down in South Beach pumping a whole bunch of iron."

Ryan said he hadn't spoken to Jones about his specific contract issues, but the coach expects the running back to remain with the team through the voluntary sessions and mandatory minicamp, which begins June 9.

"It's my understanding that Thomas is under contract, OK?" Ryan said. "This is a voluntary camp and all that kind of stuff. When it's mandatory, I mean, he's going to be here in a mandatory camp. I truly believe that."

Meanwhile, Pro Bowl running back-kick returner Leon Washington remained absent, also in a contract dispute. He hasn't been at the Jets' facility since the workouts began two weeks ago.

Washington is scheduled to earn $535,000 this season, the final year of his rookie contract. He's believed to be looking for about $6 million per year, similar to deals that Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew and San Diego's Darren Sproles -- players he's often compared to -- have received.

"Everybody knows how valuable Leon is to the team, an explosive player," Woody said. "The business side is going to take care of itself. When it comes down to it, I know he's going to be here ready to go and making a lot of plays."

Notes: QB Kellen Clemens jogged off the field late in practice because he received word that his wife, Nicole, went into labor with their second child. "The best play today had to be Kellen Clemens' wife," Ryan said. "Like any good football wife, she waited until after practice to go into labor, so we're proud of her." ... LB David Harris collided with S Jim Leonhard during a punting drill and took a helmet to his mouth. Ryan said Harris' teeth were OK. "I did tell him that, 'You're not a handsome guy anyway,'" Ryan said. "Another scary thing, but he's doing fine."

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