CINCINNATI -- Like a savvy boxer anticipating his opponent's devastating right cross, Adam Jones has been light on his feet and had his guard high throughout his career to prevent the next potential blow.
In his older age, the 32-year-old Cincinnati Bengals cornerback has come to realize there simply is no running from his past. It also has dawned on him in recent years that when it comes to his on- and off-field life, there are many who want to see him fail.
That's why the long-embattled defender's primary mission has been to prove everyone -- particularly his most ardent, loudmouthed critics -- wrong. He says he can best do that by anticipating what the criticisms will be next and funneling that into positive energy.
"I always think about, 'Well, what are they going to say next?' Or how can I beat them to the punch of saying something next?" Jones said.
Now that the ink has dried on his new three-year, $22 million contract with the Bengals, Jones can already hear what's coming.
"I've got to make sure I show my ass this year or it's, 'Ah, he's gotten comfortable,'" Jones said. "I've had my ups and downs, and people have told me what I couldn't do and can't do ... [but] at the end of the day, I just keep finding a way to prove people wrong."
There's no need to go into much detail about Jones' pre-Bengals years, but suffice to say, present-day Jones wishes he could have sat down with the "Pacman" who dominated most aspects of his life eight or nine years ago. The suspensions and courtroom dramas the younger Jones went through are now the driving force behind his insistence that today's NFL up-and-comers don't repeat his mistakes.
"It's funny when [the game] is gone. That's all I'm going to say," Jones said, grinning. "Nobody's calling your name for you to go out of the tunnel, especially when you know you could be playing the game at your prime. That's why I tell the guys, 'Enjoy the process.'"
Jones was suspended for all of the 2007 season and part of the 2008 season because of off-field incidents. After getting cut by Dallas after the 2008 season, he was out of the NFL for more than a year before the Bengals signed him in May 2010. When he arrived in Cincinnati, a couple of neck surgeries hampered his play. It took him two seasons to get healthy and back to the brand of football that made him a first-round pick.
Maturity, improved health and time have all factored into Jones' recent stretch of individual success. Few cornerbacks have played as consistently well the past three seasons. Coach Marvin Lewis considers last season the best of Jones' career, largely because the Pro Bowler was finally able to get proper offseason work.
"When we got him, he had never had an offseason," Lewis said. "His offseasons, as you would say, were tumultuous. They were busy. Then he got injured. ... So he wasn't really right until '12 or the '13 season."
There isn't a day that goes by when Jones does not think about discrediting his doubters.
"Because I already know how it's going to go down," he said. "It's going to go, 'Oh, he's gotten paid, he's gotten comfortable, the passion's not there.' It's always going to be something. So I just always think about that. I have to think of what they're going to say -- 'he's not working out,' so I'm going make sure I work out. 'Oh, he's out in the club.' Well, I'm not out in the club.
"I'm always trying to think ahead of the game, because when you don't and you get relaxed, that's when the bulls--- starts happening."
And he doesn't want any of that.