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 HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) -The sweat dripped off Thomas Jones' face and his green No. 20 jersey was drenched. It's a sight the running back's new Jets teammates are getting used to.
``As you guys can see, he's a physical specimen,'' quarterback Chad Pennington said with a laugh after the team's voluntary workouts Thursday.
Jones, acquired from the NFC champion Chicago Bears in March to jump-start New York's running game, has made quite an impression in the weight room this offseason. He spends five or six hours exercising and working out - and that's all before noon.
``He works extremely hard,'' Pennington said. ``He's never the first guy out. He's always staying in there, doing a little extra. He's a true professional.''
And he's got the biceps to prove it. Jones' jersey sleeves were rolled up to his shoulders, probably because the fabric would be no match to contain his sinewy arms. And it's hard not to notice them, covered in tattoos and looking as if they should be on a professional bodybuilder.
For a team needing someone to shoulder the load with its running game, the Jets certainly picked the right guy.
``Every time I go down to the weight room, he's there,'' coach Eric Mangini said. ``You can tell there's real progress in terms of his muscle mass. His work ethic on the field has been equally impressive.''
The physical attributes aside, Jones brings impressive credentials to New York. He has rushed for more than 1,200 yards in each of his last two seasons and provides the Jets with a legitimate successor to Curtis Martin as their No. 1 back.
``Right now, I'm just focused on what I need to do to make this team do better, and that's what I've been focused on this whole offseason,'' Jones said. ``Those are the main things I try to concern myself with.''
Last season, Martin never played for the Jets because of a knee injury that has likely ended his career. In his absence, Derrick Blaylock, Kevan Barlow, Leon Washington and Cedric Houston all took turns carrying the load for New York, which finished 20th in the NFL in rushing.
Blaylock and Barlow have since been released, while Jones is almost four months removed from leading the Bears to the Super Bowl against Indianapolis. Jones, who'll be 29 when the season starts, rushed for 1,210 yards and six touchdowns last season.
``The Super Bowl is a long time ago for me,'' Jones said. ``It was in February, but moving here to New York and getting settled in and getting used to the offense, that's all I've been really focused on. I really haven't thought about the Super Bowl.''
Maybe not, but the Jets sure have. And they know having a back like Jones makes them more of a threat in the AFC. That's not as much a knock on Washington and Houston, the lone holdovers from last season at the position, than an acknowledgment of Jones' talent.
Jones has rushed for 5,348 yards and six touchdowns in his career, but has also been a big threat out of the backfield in the passing game with 215 catches for 1,376 yards.
``I consider myself a pretty good receiver,'' Jones said. ``I take a lot of pride in catching the ball and in pass protection, and I take a lot of pride in trying to be a complete back, so if they throw it to me, I have a lot of confidence I can catch it.''
Jones is hoping to be even more of an all-around impact player than he was with the Bears.
``The offense, there's definitely a lot of opportunity for me to get the ball in the open field and do some things out there,'' Jones said. ``Chicago's offense was a little more - I don't want to say we didn't have a lot of opportunities to get the ball, but we were pretty predictable as far as our running game. Here, we have so many great players on offense, we have a lot of guys who can make plays, and I'm just one of those guys.''
Not quite. He's a little more than just an extra piece in the Jets' game plan, and his presence in the offense thrills Pennington.
``I think everyone knows what type of running back he is and the really good things he's done throughout his career,'' Pennington said. ``We're excited to have him here. We're going to do everything we can to make sure we put him in a successful position to help us win.''
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