Donald Jones does not see his assumption of the slot-receiver job as a particularly big change in the Buffalo Bills' offense.
"I'm not a stranger to this at all," Jones said. "I did it all preseason. I guess they were getting me ready if something like this were to happen, and now it's just time for me to step in and do it in the game."
The Bills are hoping for a smooth transition from injured David Nelson to Jones in the slot position starting with this week's game against Kansas City at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
If it isn't smooth, the Bills' passing game faces a serious problem.
Nelson caught 61 passes last season, second most on the team. He and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick have a synchronized connection for recognizing how pass routes should be run in the myriad of situations that arise in every game. Nelson has been a security blanket for Fitzpatrick.
Jones remains the outside starter opposite Stevie Johnson when the Bills are in a two-wideout set. But with three or more wideouts in the game, Jones is expected to move inside most of the time, and either Brad Smith or T.J. Graham will enter as an outside man.
"I feel good about it," Fitzpatrick said. "The one thing we like about Donald is he is so versatile, in terms of being able to play inside and outside. We worked him a lot this offseason inside. He is going to do a lot of the same on the outside, but now we have the flexibility to put him where we want him, which is nice."
Jones, 6-foot and 208 pounds, isn't as big a target as the 6-5, 214-pound Nelson. However, he's quicker and he has a thicker frame. He's the best blocker of the Bills' wideouts. Jones is aiming to prove himself as a reliable starter after catching 23 passes in eight games last year before going out for the season with a leg injury.
Jones says he's excited about getting more chances to work the middle of the field.
"Definitely, when you feel like you're gonna be targeted more, you're always excited to be able to step into that role," Jones said. "But you always have to be ready. The ball can come to you at any time. You have to be ready at all times."
Running the middle-of-the-field routes in the Bills' offense is not simple, as evidenced by the interception Fitzpatrick threw that Antonio Cromartie returned for a touchdown last week. Nelson broke one way on the option route, Fitzpatrick expected the other. Pickoff.
"In this offense you can't really go the wrong way because the quarterback is throwing on anticipation," Jones said. "You and him have to be on the same page, you have to see the same things that he sees. If you don't, something like that can happen. It's just how this offense is, and we work on that every day in practice."
"He can go inside and play inside," Bills coach Chan Gailey said of Jones. "I do not have any problems with that."
But Gailey cautioned the Bills will not use Jones exactly the way they used Nelson.
"Nothing will be exactly the same," Gailey said. "You try to do some similar things with people."
Fitzpatrick says he's confident in the Bills' ability to adapt.
"One of the great things about Chan is he takes the pieces that we do have and allows us to play to our strengths," Fitzpatrick said. "I am sure it is going to be a little bit different because David is not in there. He'll move around some of the guys we have."