At the far end of a deserted field, long after practice had ended, Kenyatta Jones and offensive line guru Joe Bugel worked on the nuances of their craft. For 15 minutes they honed Jones's technique -- backpedaling, shuffling, hand placement, angles -- getting him ready for the Washington Redskins' home preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers on Saturday night.
Jones, 25, knows replacing stalwart right tackle Jon Jansen, out for the season because of an Achilles' injury, offers him perhaps his first chance to begin restoring his image. Double knee surgeries and a pectoral injury kept Jones out of pads for about 18 months, making the Super Bowl ring he won with New England in 2002 seem like part of a distant era, while an October 2003 incident in which Jones scalded a roommate with hot water and received a year's probation from a Massachusetts court damaged his reputation.
"I think this is a great opportunity to establish my name and who I am and what I'm able to do," Jones said.
Jones pleaded no contest to one count of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and was issued a "continued without a finding" ruling in April after he threw hot water on roommate Mark Paul. If Jones does not violate his one-year probation the case will be dismissed. Paul, who suffered second- and third-degree burns, was sitting on the toilet when he was hit by the water.
Jones describes the incident as "a prank gone awry" and said he thinks Paul exaggerated the nature of the altercation for possible financial gain. "I was tormented because of a friend and it was a lesson learned, a hard lesson learned. But, hey, we all have to learn," Jones said.
Paul's attorney, Alec Sohmer, said Jones acted carelessly and has shown little remorse for the incident despite his client's injuries. Sohmer said that in a few weeks he will file a civil suit against Jones seeking monetary damages.
"He was very contrite in the courtroom," Sohmer said of Jones. "But he has not issued us an apology."
Jones had family connections to Paul and had known him for about two years when the incident took place. Paul helped Jones run daily errands in a Boston suburb while he was recovering from knee surgery. By all accounts Jones and his friends enjoyed rough housing and playing practical jokes -- Sohmer refers to them as "frat-house pranks" -- but in this case Paul suffered burns on his hairline, shoulder and back and received medical attention at a nearby hospital. Sohmer said Paul would not comment on the incident.
Jones has had other legal troubles. The Gainesville, Fla., native twice received probation while in college at South Florida: he got six months for driving with a suspended license in 1999 and two years for carrying a concealed weapon and resisting arrest without violence in 2000.
But he says that the most recent incident has led him to change his life after he became the subject of considerable scorn in Boston and infamous nationwide as word of what happened spread to columnists and late-night talk show hosts. Jones said the key change was parting ways with people he considers to have been negative influences.
"We were horsing around, but everything happens for a reason," Jones said, "To this day I wouldn't change nothing that happened on that day. I don't hate the guy [Paul], but . . . it was a prank gone awry, and I'm glad it happened the way it happened, because I could have been a more wealthier guy, and he could have went for more than what he went for, so it's good that I got it out of the way and got those guys who I didn't need around me away from me. So that gave me a new start, and now here I have another new start, and I get a chance to prove what I can do and what I'm able to do on the field. And off the field I've got a good family here, and I've got a lot of coaches who care."
Jones's agent, Hadley Engelhard, said his client has put his problems with Paul behind him. "We all learn from our mistakes and this is a new chapter for Kenyatta and he's looking forward to it," Engelhard said. "He's really made a change in his life."
After being selected in the fourth round by New England in 2001, Jones was earning a base salary around $400,000 a season and received a $365,000 signing bonus. Jones became a regular in his second season with the team -- appearing in 13 games and starting 11 -- and helped them win the Super Bowl, but needed surgery on both knees in the offseason and was finally healthy enough to return to the active roster in late October 2003 when the Patriots cut him. Engelhard said he orchestrated the move to get Jones out of New England, and team management obliged ("We all agreed that would be best for Kenyatta," Engelhard said).
The Redskins signed Jones about a month after his release to a minimum salary deal -- $830,000 over two seasons, with no sizeable incentives -- but he suffered a season-ending pectoral injury in practice and was placed on injured reserve a week later without appearing in a game. Now, he's being asked to fill in for Jansen, a respected team leader, having last played a meaningful football game at the 2002 Super Bowl and will be granted every opportunity to be Washington's starting right tackle.
"We are giving him a shot to move up there and play," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "So hopefully he makes the most of it. We have confidence in him and we think he's going to do well."
Bugel said Jones has spent extra time working with the coaches after training sessions. He has been peppering Bugel with questions about shifting back to tackle from guard -- "He's a great extracurricular guy," Bugel said. "We just take our walk and cool down [after practice] and answer a lot of questions for him." -- and said he is eager to see Jones match up against the Panthers' fierce defensive line on Saturday, particularly dominant end Julius Peppers. For the limited time the starters are on the field it will be a battle of muscle.
"Kenyatta is powerful," Bugel said. "He's strong, very strong. He can push you around and he can knock you off the ball."
Bugel told Jones shortly after Jansen was hurt that he would be handed the chance to replace Jansen. He had already been preparing for a more prominent role, however, getting his 6-foot-3 frame down to about 301 pounds and working on his conditioning. "I'm running after plays; I never run after plays," said Jones, who briefly played college basketball in 1999-2000. "That's my rest time . . . I've never been that light before. I wasn't even that light when I played basketball at USF. It's a whole new rebirth for me."
Jones missed a few days at the start of camp because of an ankle injury, and although he is not quite 100 percent, his knees feel better than ever after surgery. It no longer hurts to bend over and he is settling back into being a right tackle with each practice. He does not wear his Super Bowl ring, keeping it locked away instead, and said he is forgetting his past -- both good and bad -- and focusing on the future.
"I've been there before and know what it takes to get" a Super Bowl ring, Jones said.
Researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.