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Thrust into starting job, Redskins' left tackle Jones welcomes challenge
BY RICH CAMPBELL
ASHBURN--The last two weeks of July could have been a total bummer for Levi Jones, but he didn't view it that way.
For the first time in seven years, a new NFL season began without him. All 32 teams reported to training camp, and their offensive lines began to jell for the upcoming campaign. Jones, meanwhile, trained on his own near his home in Arizona, away from the action and the spotlight.
And he was OK with that. He was waiting for a specific fit, a certain combination of a contract and a chance for playing time. When none materialized, he accepted it and waited.
And then the Washington Redskins called. Starting left tackle Chris Samuels was out for the season with a neck injury. Their line was decimated.
It was, as Jones put it, "a golden opportunity." He signed a one-year, veteran-minimum deal on Oct. 20.
Three weeks later, he is the Redskins' third starting left tackle of the season. He has the chance to prove to the rest of the league that he's not the washed up, injury-prone player some perceive him to be. His patience has paid off.
"What have I missed,  games out of, what, --but they label me injury prone?" Jones asked incredulously. "I definitely want to get that off and show people that I'm ready to play and return to the elite status that I once had."
Jones, indeed, was once considered elite. The Cincinnati Bengals drafted him 10th overall in 2002. He was the third tackle drafted that year. The first? Why, none other than the Redskins' Mike Williams, whose ankle injury last week created a trickle-down effect that opened a starting spot for Jones.
He became a starter as a rookie and a long-term stalwart on the Bengals' line. He started 98 percent of their snaps from 2003-04, and he helped them to the playoffs in 2005.
Jones, 30, took pride in his ability to play through pain. He was taught at Arizona State that there is no such thing as an injury, he said. That's why in the final month of the 2003 season, Jones played every snap in a game only six days after arthroscopic surgery to repair torn cartilage in his knee.