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Confidence high for 'hard-working' Zay Jones stepping up in the offense

Allow me to reintroduce you to Zay Jones for just a moment.

Jones' 399 career receptions at East Carolina University are still the most for any player in NCAA Division-I history. That also includes his 158-reception senior season, which is still the most in NCAA history for a season.

Four seasons ago, Jones' big play repertoire began to shine in the NFL, as he led the Buffalo Bills in receiving yards (652) and receiving touchdowns (seven) in 2018. After his breakout second-year season in Buffalo, he was traded to the Raiders in 2019 for a fifth-round pick.

In his three seasons with the Silver and Black, he's been considered an "old faithful" receiver of sorts for quarterback Derek Carr. Jones, who's seen a dip in production since his arrival, has still found a way to make catches when it mattered the most. You don't have to look far to find an example of that, with one of his two catches in Week 1's Monday night home opener against the Baltimore Ravens being the game-winning 31-yard touchdown grab.

"I can't be happier. If I had to pick somebody, I would probably pick Zay," Carr said after the win over the Ravens. "Please let Zay catch the game winner because he does so much for us and taking double teams. He works harder than everybody, so I'd sit here and talk 10 minutes about the guy, but I'm just happy for him."

On the season, Jones has caught six receptions for 115 yards, which is sixth on the team in receiving yards. That can all change starting with this trip to East Rutherford.

Jones will be expected to step up in a big way at starting wideout, after the release of Henry Ruggs III on Monday. Even with thinner depth at the receiver position, the organization has little doubt that Jones will step up.

"We always talk about opportunity and it comes in a lot of different forms," said offensive coordinator Greg Olson. "This is an opportunity for Zay – not the opportunity he was looking for – but we always felt real strong about Zay Jones and his abilities as a receiver and his abilities to play the Z [receiver] position. He's had a very good week of practice, but he's had good weeks of practice in the past. If you were to talk to not only Derek, but the rest of the players on offense ... they have all the confidence in the world in Zay, and we do as well as the staff.

"Very thankful to have him and we're eager to see what he can do."

Like Coach Olson has stated, arguably no one could be more eager to see Jones step into the starting lineup more than his quarterback. Carr has sung the praises of No. 7 since Zay stepped into the Silver and Black uniform, forming a strong bond through their time on the field in game action and their ritual 6 a.m. offseason workouts.

"I've always thought the world of Isaiah. ... I think the common theme of when I talk about Zay is how hard he works," Carr said Wednesday afternoon. "I think you guys have seen at Training Camp and just the relentlessness he practices with and it's literally every day. He's the hardest practicing person I've ever seen in my life. I am excited for him.

"When he's made plays in the game, you guys hear how I talk about it after the game, I'm just so excited for him. Now he has a very big role, but roles change in the NFL quickly and his role has changed just along with some other guys whose roles are going to change."

"He’s the hardest practicing person I’ve ever seen in my life." Derek Carr

Along with Carr, Interim Head Coach Rich Bisaccia also believes not much will change to the dynamic offense.

"Zay has made a lot of plays in the games that we've played in," said Bisaccia. "People don't even notice what he's done playing flyer out there on the punt team and he's on kickoff return. ... We have a high expectation for what Zay can bring us just like what he's brought us up to this point. So, we're all going to get opportunities throughout the course of our careers and our time here and again, it's how we respond to the opportunity given to us"

In the two games Jones started last season, he collected 41 yards and five catches – an amount which honestly might pale in comparison to what he could potentially do against a banged up Giants secondary this Sunday.

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