For Donnie Jones, his 10th season in the NFL may just be his best.
Through 12 games, Jones is averaging 45.5 yards per punt and his current net average of 41.3 yards is the highest single-season mark in Eagles history. On top of all of that, Jones has been named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week after each of the Eagles last two games.
But things weren't always looking this bright for the Eagles punter.
Jones entered the league as a seventh-round draft pick of the Seattle Seahawks in 2004. After spending the first four weeks of the regular season on the practice squad, Jones was placed on the active roster for Seattle's fifth game of the season. It was the shot at the NFL that he had always wanted, but it didn't last all that long. In his sixth game on the active roster, Jones had one of the worst games of his career, punting eight times, averaging slightly less than 32 yards per punt. He found himself back on the practice squad shortly after.
"Maybe it's the speed of the game, but some guys develop slower or faster than others," Jones said. "My rookie year, I was on the practice squad, and then I played six games and I didn't play very well, then I got cut and went back on practice squad. I kind of played six games in the middle of the year. I think I had a 38-yard average and a 32-yard net, and I think that in the last game I played I was just awful, so they cut me and they put me back on the practice squad."
Jones was ready to revitalize his career the following season, only to be cut two days before the start of Training Camp. It was an unexpected turn that nearly ended his stay in the NFL. Unsure of whether or not he had a future in the league, Jones began looking for any work that he could find.
"I'll never forget - we had actually bought an apartment in Seattle," Jones recalled. "I figured I was going to be there, and then when I got cut, I thought I was done. … I was calling people that I knew looking for jobs. I didn't know - I easily could have been out of the league in early 2005.
"I was trying to find anything. I had earned my degree in finance, so I was trying to find something in that industry. Calling around and talking to some of these people to see what they were doing, there was one guy that I talked to in New York and he was telling me that he was living in basically a box, making nothing, but I was looking at all options. Like I said, I hadn't done anything. The last game I had played, I had eight punts against Miami … I averaged 32 yards and a 28-yard net and got booed out of the stadium. People were telling me, 'You need to be behind a desk at a day job,' so I got on the phone and started calling."
It was at that time that his former college head coach gave Jones another shot. Nick Saban had moved from the college ranks at LSU to become the head coach of the Miami Dolphins, and it was Saban who decided to give Jones another shot. After thinking that he may have seen his last taste of NFL action against the Dolphins in 2004, Jones found himself wearing a Dolphins uniform as the 2005 season began.
"It's weird the way things happen," said Jones. "I go to Miami and Matt Turk is their guy. He's an outstanding person and he really helped me. Going into Week 1, he tore his groin, and it was an unfortunate situation but he was out for the year and I kind of moved into the spot. There are a lot of good guys that never make it, because there are only 32 positions. Timing has a lot to do with it."
Timing may have played a big role in catching on with another NFL team, but it's been Jones' consistency that has allowed him to appear in 142 straight games since the start of the 2005 season.
"I think it's just a testament to hard work," Jones explained. "Whatever opportunity that you're given, you try to make the most of it. I've been through ups. I've been through downs, and obviously right now I feel like I'm playing pretty good and as a unit we're playing really good. We have to keep it up and keep doing that. It started (Tuesday) and I had a good day today of preparing for Detroit, and that's obviously the big focus now."
Jones came to the Eagles after spending one season in Houston, during which he set the Texans' franchise records for gross (47.1 yards per punt) and net punting average (40.5), but the Texans elected not to re-sign him. After a dubious start to his NFL career, Jones now finds himself among the best at his position, and he couldn't be more ecstatic to be a Philadelphia Eagle.
"As far as Houston goes, I've moved on from that," said Jones. "I don't know why (they didn't re-sign me), nor do I care. Things happen for a reason. I'm extremely happy that I ended up here. There's nowhere that I'd rather be than here in Philadelphia. … As far as considering myself as one of the top (punters) in the league, I don't really look at that. I just try to go out, do the best I can, and all I can focus on is doing my job week in and out, and try to get better and try to do everything that I can to help the team."