The spring workouts turned it around for Marvin Jones.
His fellow wide receivers feel good now that Marvin Jones is back after missing last season. Mohamed Sanu calls him their "spark." And the numbers say Bengaldom should be glad he's back.
But the biggest thing after "a lot of low points," is that Jones thinks he's back.
All the way back after Saturday's dashing 31-yard TD catch, where AJ McCarron led him on a deep-in at the Bears 10 and Jones kept going, running away from safety Antrel Rolle before running through safety Adrian Amos.
"It was big," Jones admitted this week of his first TD catch since Dec. 30, 2013. "It's very important just because it put a stamp on me coming back. Everything I've been through physically and emotionally, it was like the finishing touches of being back."
But Jones didn't keep the ball. Even though he was holding proof his year-long agony is over.
"That's the kind of guy he is," Sanu said.
"It was his first one," Jones said of McCarron's touchdown pass. "I've got plenty of balls back at home."
He's got 11 NFL touchdowns to be exact and when he scores, the Bengals are 7-1. Marvelous Marv has more feel-good numbers. Ten of his TDs came in 2013, when the Bengals averaged 11.9 yards per catch, their best since the heyday of the Who-Dey deep ball with Chad Johnson and Chris Henry in 2006. With Jones in there in 2013, Dalton was 10th in the NFL in deep passing according to profootballfocus.com. Last year without him he was 20th.
The numbers make perfect sense. When there are two big speed receivers like the 6-2, 200-pound Jones and perennial Pro Bowler A.J. Green (6-4, 207), the defense can only do so much. Just the ides of a running mate for the immensely talented Green paralyzes defenses.
And then there are feel-good things the metrics can't spit out.
"He's that extra energy, that spark, he's that plug that gets me and A.J. going," Sanu said. "I'm the same way with him. Before the game we're like, 'Hey bro, let's get it. Let's eat.' We just get it rolling. The energy we all have around each other is just different. Especially when he's around. When he's not around, it switches over to me. When he's around we rely on Marv to be that energy because that's what he is. He's just built differently. The energy he has, that fire, it's not normal."
Sanu should know. Their teammates and coaches call them "Twins." Sometimes the coaches pass Sanu in the hall and say, "Hey, Marv. I mean Mo." Or they might see Jones and say "What's up Mo? Marv?" They locker next to each other, but they were close long before that, going back to that 2012 rookie minicamp when Sanu arrived as a third-rounder out of Rutgers and Marvin Lewis Jones came via the fifth-round pick for Chad Johnson out of the University of California.
Who knew East Coast ice and Cali Kool-Aid could mix so well in an NFL glass?
"It's different, but it's similar. It's not much different at all," Sanu said. "We think the same things. When I tap him, he knows what I'm thinking and when he taps me, I know what he's thinking. Low keying it. That's just how it is. Say he sees something and says, 'Look, look, look,' I know exactly what he's talking about."
A lot of times it happens in a meeting because they always sit next to each other and there'll be something on film and one of them will tap . . .
"We'll start laughing about it," Jones said.
Sanu became one of the perfect guys, then, to help Jones through his rehab that hit a wall around January and February. Jones broke the fifth metatarsal bone in his foot in his second and final practice of the season a year ago in early August. He had already been shelved by nagging ankle soreness and when the ankle continued to bother him after the pin was removed to heal the broken bone in the foot, he underwent season-ending ankle surgery. And it was his ankle that concerned him right up until the spring practices.
"There were a lot of low points," Jones said. "A couple of days would go by and it would be feeling good. I'd be saying, 'I can't even feel (any pain).' Then there would be days I'd feel horrible. I'd be like, 'I can't do anything today.' . . . It didn't matter what it was. If I felt anything, if hurt my finger, I'd say, 'Oh my God.' Just going through the mental hurdles."
Sanu saw him a couple of times during the process and encouraged him:
"Bro, you've got to be patient. Stay level-headed. You've got your family to fall back on. Once the season starts and you know your body is feeling good, just grind again. That's what got you here. So you just have to keep grinding."
Jones did and was rewarded with a good spring. The turning point? It wasn't those workouts on the Cali beaches he would occasionally post. It came in the May and June practices. He kept running routes; he'd recover, and run them again. When he was able to stack some practices here and there and there wouldn't be any pain, he felt he had it beat. Even when he had to sit out a week with a hamstring issue early in training camp he was encouraged.
"My thing was, 'It's not my ankle,'" Jones said. "A hammy is soft tissue. Things went through my head. But I was thinking, 'It's not my ankle. My ankle's not a problem." That's what I was telling myself. I just have to get back into it. Knowing that eased my mind."
The touchdown may have officially vaporized all those low points, but the play a few snaps earlier should have been confirmation. No receiver on this team goes up for the bottom of the ball like Jones whenever there is a 50-50 play. When McCarron hung one up for him early in the second quarter Sunday, he leaped over Bears cornerback Tracy Porter to bag a 43-yarder wiped out by penalty.
"Those things don't go away. I was out a season, but none of those things go away," Jones said. "I've been playing football since I was seven making those plays. That just doesn't go away from a year. I could be gone for five years. I know how to go up and get a ball. That's just what I do and what I've always done."
There are no more low points. Only balls at the high point.
"Nothing that happened messed with any of my game," he said. "It was getting back into the feel. Once the feel is there, it's all she wrote."
And if Marvelous Marv feels good, everything else seems to follow.