Greenville, N.C. — Scottie Montgomery isn’t sure where it started, but he doesn’t believe in the idea of an acclimation period for wide receivers transitioning from college football to the NFL.
Now the head coach at East Carolina University, Montgomery played wide receiver in the NFL and coached the Steelers’ wide receivers. In a conversation about Buffalo Bills rookie Zay Jones, who set an NCAA record with 399 career catches, Montgomery shoots down the idea that he’ll need a few years to make an impact.
“I don’t necessarily agree with that acclimation,” Montgomery said. “I coached Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders. Antonio pinned the ball to the ball to the side of his head in the AFC Championship Game and he was like 22. His acclimation period came kind of quickly. Mike took off, Emmanuel took off. The only acclimation period for us with those guys was how quickly they were about to get paid a heck of a lot money. The acclimation period for us was bigger than it was with them. I don’t necessarily agree with that.”
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Montgomery only coached Jones for his final season at ECU, but he saw enough to know Jones should hit the ground running in the NFL. Jones learned five wide receiver positions as a senior for the Pirates. It was a necessity for ECU given their shortcomings at the position, but Montgomery also considered it necessary for Jones to transition to the NFL. He needed to play more than just the slot, so he had him learn both outside positions in the offense. Then the other two slot positions.
“We tried to get him to learn the backside spot,” Montgomery said. “He learned it in two weeks. I’m talking from top to bottom. He learned it all. There was nothing that he didn’t understand. He knew it all, the hots and sights, everything that’s connected to the backside receiver, the X spot, he learned it. And because he learned it so fast, we challenged him to learn the No. 3 strong and the No. 1 strong position, because he already knew the No. 2 strong position. Then we challenged him to learn the No. 2 position weak. We asked him to learn all those positions, and by the second week of camp, he knew all those positions. Every one. All the ins and out, the depths. So we played him at all five spots throughout the year. People were wondering how in the world we were able to get him so many catches and how he was able to make so many plays and why couldn’t people double team him? It’s because of his academics, man. Academically, he can go out there and dominate at every single spot.
Montgomery considers the ‘X’ receiver spot to be Jones’ best eventual landing spot but said he could play in the slot and contribute early. The Bills already have Jones learning two positions, and with Anquan Boldin and Jordan Matthews both having a history of proven production in the slot, Jones might be asked to play outside. The adjustment might seem daunting, but Jones has already cleared this mental hurdle before.
“It’s not easy,” Jones said. “It just takes time. My freshman year I had one position. I knew the H position. That was may job. I took it seriously. I went out every day and did my job. Sophomore year I did a little bit more and learned the H and Y. My junior year, ok, let’s take it another step further. H, Y and a little bit of X. By the time my senior comes, I know everything I need to do, now I can say, ‘Coach, where do you want me?’ It wasn’t like I just walked into East Carolina and was like, ‘oh I can play all five positions.’ No. Any guy who can do that is a freak and that’s awesome. Most people who can do all that thinking don’t have the other part of actually being able to do it. You have to have that balance.”
The NFL is going to require plenty of thinking from Jones but the physical challenge will be just as daunting.
“People are more skilled, more experienced,” Jones said. “Someone recently said to me and it made a lot of sense, ‘The NFL is a grown man’s game, but football is a kids’ game.’ You have to carry the two. You have to grow up and be a man to compete against these guys, but at the end of the day it’s just football.”
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