When the Giants signed center Brett Jones in February 2015, all parties knew there would be a steep learning curve for the young Canadian Football League star.
Jones was fresh off a Grey Cup victory as a member of the Calgary Stampeders, and in his first two seasons had earned not only a championship ring but also Rookie of the Year in 2013 and was named the league's top offensive lineman in 2014.
But the CFL is not the NFL. They may look the same to many, but the nuances and skills needed for each league vary. Jones did not make the Giants' roster as a rookie in 2015. He sprained his knee in the preseason and was placed on season-ending IR.
This summer, Jones was given another opportunity to make the club and did. He has predominantly been the team's backup center behind Weston Richburg, but like all Giants linemen, must be prepared to fill in at other positions.
This week, with LG Justin Pugh out with a knee injury, the Giants are asking the young Canadian to fill in. Pugh has been the Giants' best offensive lineman this season and the task is a big one.
Jones relieved Pugh in the second quarter and played fairly well, earning an 82.2 grade from Pro Football Focus, the highest grade of any Giants offensive player on the day.
"I thought Jonesie did a nice job when he went in there," head coach Ben McAdoo said. "He played physical. He's been playing more center for us, but was ready to go in the ballgame at guard."
The differences between playing offensive line in the CFL and the NFL may seem minute, but in reality, they're not. There is a larger neutral zone, one full yard to be exact, which to professionals is like a country mile.
"There is a lot of nuances to the game that you don't even realize," said Jones of his adjustment to the NFL. "Just playing with one yard in Canada versus no yard here. It's definitely a lot different. Just the way you set and go about looking at the angles and stuff. It's a lot different. Those are some things that I had to adjust to. I'm just working on those things every day."
Jones will have extra focus on him this week as the Monday night game will be broadcast worldwide by ESPN. It will be his first professional start since the Grey Cup in 2014. He is fully aware of the stage he's on, but told reporters Friday that he is prepared.
"I just try and look at it as any other game. It's a big game because it's the next game," said Jones. "Definitely being in Canada, everyone would get excited for Sunday and Monday Night Football. Especially at university. We would go after practice and watch. It's a big game. It's just a big game because it's the next one. My teammates are riding with me. I'll go out and do the job, whatever that job is."
Jones' first start pits him up against Bengals' All-Pro NT Geno Atkins, one of the best interior linemen in the NFL.
"I think every guard faces a big challenge when they go against Geno," McAdoo said. "He's got a tremendously quick first step. He's built low to the ground, that's an advantage for him and he's very disruptive."
Jones is under no illusions. He realizes he will be shouldering a great responsibility on Monday night. The Giants are struggling to open holes in the running game and in the passing game, Pugh had yet to surrender a sack this season.
"The Bengals are a very good front," Jones acknowledged. "You say that almost every week. Every team you're going to play in the NFL has a very good front. The Bengals are a very good team. You have to be prepared for what they're going to bring. Especially with each player. Definitely a good front."