Irish freshman Jones makes quick impact

Most high school seniors wait to host open houses until after they receive diplomas. Notre Dame's T.J. Jones operates on a different schedule. Not to mention, he boldly chose the House that Rockne built as his celebration location.

The early enrollee quickly ascended the Fighting Irish depth chart at receiver and capped his quick-study spring with a fine performance at the Blue-Gold game in late April.

"I've surprised myself," the Gainesville, Ga., native said. "But at the same time, I know I've come out here to compete and to show myself."

And what a great first impression. Jones (5 foot 11, 185 pounds) caught four passes for 56 yards and a touchdown in his Notre Dame Stadium debut, including a run-and-catch in the first quarter that roughed up veteran cornerback Darrin Walls.

Jones had 76 receptions for 1,399 yards and 18 TDs his senior season at Gainesville, earning a top-10 nod at his position on ESPNU's 150 list. The recruiting home run wasn't supposed to pay major dividends for another year or two.

Despite losing Golden Tate to the NFL, first-year coach Brian Kelly inherited a fairly deep group of receivers -- notably Biletnikoff candidate Michael Floyd (junior). Though senior Duval Kamara has been a bit of a disappointment, he has all the tools to be a dangerous receiver if time doesn't run out before he can consistently display them. Sophomores John Goodman, Deion Walker, Shaq Evans and Robby Toma are all capable players in the mix for snaps.

This wasn't really the right time for a 17-year-old to come barging in and swipe a starting spot. Barring any backpedaling in August, that's exactly what Jones appears to have done.

"Right now he's in a starting role," Kelly said after the spring game. "I mean, he can play for us right now. I think he showed that on the first quick hitch he took and ran over a pretty good corner.

"He's physical, he plays fast, he's smart, he's a true freshman. He's a young man that will factor in prominently what we do on offense in the fall."

Jones, not even old enough to cast a ballot, earned a vote of confidence from junior quarterback Dayne Crist.

"T.J. has shown such a maturity," he said. "As a quarterback you know you can trust him because from an assignment standpoint, he's doing what he needs to do, and you just feel comfortable with him out there.

"I think he's a pretty complete receiver. He's got the speed, he's got the hands ... he's very fluid."

And it's pretty obvious Jones is pretty impatient.