NOTRE DAME, Ind. - It has only been one game, but after watching that one game - Notre Dame's 28-6 win over Temple last week - at least one thing is obvious: Fighting Irish receiver T.J. Jones has a new gear to go to.
"This summer I spent a lot of time working on my speed," Jones said this week when asked about his new explosiveness. "That's what a lot of the criticisms I've heard or worries that I didn't have that second gear, so I definitely spent a lot of time working on that."
Jones finished last week's game with team-highs of six receptions and 138 yards and a stellar 23 yards-per-catch average. The bulk of his yardage came after the catch. Jones routinely exploded away from would-be tacklers thanks in large part to his new and improved speed.
"It's weird to look at," Jones said of seeing his boosted burst after watching last week's game tape. "It's definitely a good feeling though seeing the hard work paid off and if I made those strides in the couple months that I've been working - there (are) more strides to be made if I keep working in the future."
Jones credits his improvements to the hard work he put in during the offseason leading up to his senior season.
"I did a lot of plyometrics (and) a lot of speed work through (strength and conditioning) coach (Paul) Longo and what we did here," said Jones. "When I went home for a couple weeks I just did little things back home, but (I) really just wanted to build my legs up through the weight room and through our conditioning here. That's what helped anchor my speed."
The Roswell, GA native has been a solid receiver over his first three seasons at Notre Dame. He tied 2013 first round draft pick Tyler Eifert for the team-high with 50 receptions last year. He was also just 36 yards behind Eifert's team-best 685 yards.
The lack of an extra gear kept Jones from being able to do even more on the field. His 138 yards last week marked the first time he has ever eclipsed the century mark. His 97 yards last year against Wake Forest was his previous best. He weighed just 187 pounds in each of his first two years in college, but had a hard time last year after adding about 10 pounds of muscle to his frame.
"I think I'm a lot more comfortable in my skin," said Jones. "I'm carrying 195 (pounds) right now. I'll gain a couple pounds. (I) lost a couple through camp, but just being able to run quicker, faster (and) stronger with this weight as opposed to last year when it was kind of heavy on me (and) wearing me down - I just feel more comfortable."
"I think a lot of it has to do with confidence," Jones continued. "Believing in yourself (and) believing that you can get faster (and) that you've gotten faster. If you don't believe in yourself you're going to hold yourself back. You're always going to be second-guessing what you can do."
Also new to Jones this season is his added punt return duties. He returned punts his junior and senior years in high school, but this is the first time he has ever done it at Notre Dame and had some constructive criticism for himself after watching his returns against Temple.
"I saw a lot of room for improvement," said Jones. "(I) definitely saw some seams. I've gotta keep my feet and that's the main thing. I can't get more yards if I'm on the ground."
"If I kind of would have slowed down, even if they clubbed my ankles I may have been able to keep my balance a little better," he continued. "But it was my first time and I'm going to be more relaxed this game and later in the season."
Jones had three returns for 23 yards with a long return of 12 yards. The 23 yards he had in week one represents exactly half of the 46 punt return yards the Irish had in all of 2012. The longest return Davonte' Neal had last year was 11 yards.
Both Jones' newfound speed and his added punt return duties will both no doubt enhance his potential NFL stock for next year's draft. Head coach Brian Kelly has already boasted that Jones is one of the best receivers in the nation as well as a first round draft choice.
"Coach Kelly is my guy," Jones said when asked about his coach's comments. "If he feels that way about me then that's more motivation for (me) to kind of push that harder to kind of fulfill his expectations of me."
That kind of thinking has helped Jones change his own opinion of himself.
"That definitely plays part in the confidence," he said. "Building my own confidence (and) knowing myself on and off the field, so hearing those things and knowing that's my motivation - it does help my self-confidence."
A faster Jones is a confident Jones. So far, that much is obvious.