Jets' Jones may be 31, but he's built to last

New York Jets running back Thomas Jones (20),

New York Jets running back Thomas Jones (20), picks up yardage in the first quarter against the New York Giants. (Credit: Freelance)

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Thomas Jones isn't buying into the theory, not with last year's AFC rushing title in his hip pocket.

Jones just celebrated his 31st birthday on Aug. 19, meaning he's moved one year past the big three-oh and sliding closer into the territory where the tread on the tires of an NFL running back typically start getting a bit worn down.

The whispers begin. Critics start lining up with the pitchforks, ready to drive him out of town.

Thirty is supposedly that magic number for running backs, but Jones doesn't want to hear any of that talk. In his eyes, just because he's a couple of years removed from being a 20-something doesn't mean he's about to have a dramatic drop in production.

"I think that's definitely a myth," he said. "Thirty years old is just an age. If anything, look at Tony Richardson."

Said Richardson, the 15-year veteran who's the Jets' starting fullback and Jones' lead blocker: "I should be dead then. I'm 37."

Jones, a 10-year pro who's entering his third season with the Jets, had one of the best seasons of his career in 2008, running for a conference-best 1,312 yards on 290 attempts and scoring a career-high 13 touchdowns. He barely missed topping his single-season high of 1,335 set in 15 games with the Bears in 2005.

His reward? The 5-10, 212-pound, solidly-built Jones was named to his first career Pro Bowl, becoming just the third running back in NFL history to earn the honor at age 30 or older.

"The people who are saying the 30-year-old running back stuff a lot of times aren't the coaches, and they aren't the personnel guys," Jones said. "They are the people who are outside thinking, '30, running back.' I'm happy that I had the year I had last year because I think that helps try to get away from that type of stigma."

Jones claims he's just hitting his stride, finally getting into that place where he's at peak performance because he wasn't banged around much during his first four seasons in the NFL. He battled through some injuries during parts of his three seasons with the Cardinals and felt the burdensome expectations that come with being selected seventh overall by a foundering, perennially-losing franchise (at that time).

He never really got going and didn't carry the ball more than 138 times in his three years in Arizona, failing to even once come close to sniffing the 1,000-yard plateau. Jones had 137 carries in 2003 with the Buccaneers, but his career didn't kick into gear until 2004 with the Bears, when he had 948 yards and seven touchdowns on 240 attempts.

"Early in my career, I didn't get a whole lot of carries and I was fortunate enough to not have many injuries," Jones said. "I got to Chicago and that's when I started getting my carries going into my fourth, fifth year of my career. So I kind of got a late start, which is great if you want to continue to play longer because I didn't take those hits until later.

"I'm in my prime, so I feel like I'm in as good a shape as I've ever been in."

Jones takes a tremendous amount of pride in his svelte physique. That's yet another reason why he's somewhat shattering the supposed 30-year-old-running-back blues.

He has a rigorous training regime that's led to his chiseled frame, inviting some of his teammates to jokingly call him "Muscle Beach." Jones also watches his diet, chills out in the cold tub when it's time, gets massages and even visits with the chiropractor.

"A long time ago, my trainer said your body is your business," Jones said. "And it is. I've felt the more you take care of your body and the better shape you're in, the longer you can play. . . . Obviously in football, you take a lot more risks and chances than the average person would take just because of the nature of the sport. So I think that's just more cause for you to take extra steps to take care of yourself."

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