- Jane McManus, Reporter & Columnist, espnW.com
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It felt like the last day of school at the Giants' training facility. Tom Coughlin had run a short practice before gathering all his players together to close last week's minicamp, but he didn't just give them a short speech and send them off.
Coughlin stood there for 15 minutes as planes flew overhead and someone cracked a joke about the over/under on how long the coach would talk. Later, he told reporters he had been reminding the Giants to be safe during the break, to make sure they didn't do anything that would end up a sad or embarrassing headline.
Now that Chad Jones may have cut short a career with the Giants as the result of Friday's early-morning car accident, Coughlin's warning seems prescient. It might have sprung from a motorcycle accident a few weeks earlier that had injured Mathias Kiwanuka's brother, but there has been no shortage of examples to draw from.
It must be tempting for a rookie to try to squeeze a season of celebration into six weeks of offseason. When the veterans were in tropical locales relaxing after the NFL season, Jones and his fellow rookies were pushing for BCS titles. The LSU safety went straight from his collegiate season to his third-round selection in the NFL draft in April, and then a working schedule of rookie camp, workouts and OTAs.
"I think right at the end of the OTAs he was starting to emerge and doing things very well on special teams and in the secondary," Coughlin said on the last day of the minicamp.
Jones and his teammates left that day for a vacation which must have seemed all too short.
Six weeks to celebrate a June 11 contract that included more than $800,000 in a signing bonus. Six weeks to reconnect with family and friends back home in Louisiana. Six weeks until he began two-a-days under the hot Albany, N.Y., sun, working as hard as ever to carve out a role on his new team.
Jones, 21, was back in New Orleans on Friday morning when the the black SUV he was driving hit a pole, shredding the driver's side and smashing the front. The results of toxicology reports are still pending from the accident, which took place before 7 a.m.
Jones, who was cited for careless operation of a vehicle, is lucky to have his life. His career is another issue after surgery for a broken left leg and ankle.
When then-Jets running back Leon Washington sustained a break of his fibula and tibia, it took him months to recover, and he was traded before he could get back on the field. The reports coming out of New Orleans detail damage to Jones' leg that is much more extensive.
Even if doctors are able to repair enough of the injured bones and ligaments of his left leg to allow him the hope of playing again, the road back could be difficult. Whether he will be able to accomplish a recovery in time to keep a roster spot is a dimmer prospect.
The accident took place two days before the start of the NFL rookie symposium, when the newest league members are welcomed and schooled on everything from finances to decision-making. It's designed to give rookies the tools to protect their wealth and prolong their careers. It will come too late for Jones.
Most of us will never know what it's like to be young and newly rich, but we can probably remember how easy it was to tune out adults sounding a cautionary note on the first day of summer break. To drown out the sound of their voices while relishing plans that would not include structure or supervision.
Turns out Coughlin had a point.