After a bout with mono, Packers rookie tackle Caleb Jones is back on the practice field

Tom Silverstein
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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GREEN BAY – The mystery over why the Green Bay Packers put promising young tackle Caleb Jones on the non-football injury list is over.

He had mononucleosis.

Jones practiced for the first time since Sept. 16, opening a three-week window available to the Packers to evaluate him and decide whether to add him back to the 53-man roster. He practiced in pads and said he felt stronger than he was before the illness struck him.

“I think today I went out there in practice and shocked a lot of people,” Jones said. “I can't wait to see what the coaches have to say after reviewing the film.”

Jones became a favorite to many fans when they saw the potential the 6-foot-9, 340-pound tackle showed during training camp. Overweight and out of shape his final two years at Indiana, Jones lost more than 30 pounds in the spring and joined the Packers as an undrafted free agent.

Caleb Jones, shown here at rookie camp, is back practicing with the Green Bay Packers.

Almost from the beginning, Jones put his enormously long arms (36 inches) and outstanding feel for pass blocking to use. Throughout camp, he continued to get better, playing a steady diet of right tackle, but also taking 84 snaps at left tackle in the preseason.

The Packers decided to keep seventh-round draft pick Rasheed Walker over Jones on the final cutdown but were able to re-sign him to the practice squad. Before the regular season started, however, Jones received an offer to join another team’s 53-man roster and the Packers quickly moved to keep him, adding him to their 53-man roster.

Two weeks later, he started to feel weak and went to see the doctor. After some tests, it was determined he had mono, often referred to as the “kissing disease” because it is spread through saliva (often through a glass or utensil).

“I had a really hard time explaining that to my girlfriend,” Jones joked.

For more than two weeks, he was miserable. All the gains he had made on the practice field and in the weight room were in danger because he was unable to do much.

“It was literally maybe two, 2½ weeks there I was actually under the weather,” Jones said. “I didn’t lose too much (weight). It was one of those things where the body aches were the main thing. During that time I didn’t do anything physical at all.

“The spleen swells up when you get mono, so in order to not (affect) the spleen, they were like, ‘Yeah, we’ll just take you off physical activity and then slowly ramp you up.'”

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Once Jones was back at full strength, he said, he hit the weight room hard. He wasn’t allowed to practice while on the non-football injury list, so he poured all his energy into working on his body.

Though pretty strong, Jones has a lot of room on his frame to build good weight.

“It’s been like a mini-offseason the last eight weeks,” he said. “I’ve just kind of been working out, making sure I’m staying on top of my weight, my conditioning, lifting like crazy. Now I feel like I’m in fantastic shape, just strong and fast.”

Whether Jones is added back to the 53-man roster remains questionable. The Packers’ line has stabilized with left tackle David Bakhtiari and guard Elgton Jenkins back playing regularly and Yosh Nijman firmly entrenched at right tackle.

But if there’s a need for a tackle or the Packers decide they want to see Jones in live action, he said he’ll be ready. If they choose to just practice him for three weeks and then shut him down, he said he'll make the most of it.

“I’ve got to make up for lost time,” he said. “This is my rookie year and if they keep me around here to develop, I have to make sure these next few weeks, as long as I have to practice, I’m making the most of every opportunity to develop.

“So, if my number is called next year, if that’s what the plan is, I’m ready. There’s no looking back after that.”

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