When the Ravens re-signed wide receiver/kick returner Jacoby Jones during the offseason, the organization figured they would have the best of both worlds when it came to the electrifying playmaker.
Jones, who dazzled in the kick return game in 2013 recording one touchdown and 26 kickoff returns of 20 yards or greater also turned in his best season ever as a pass catcher (37 catches, 455 yards two touchdowns) for the Ravens and quarterback Joe Flacco.
It’s safe to assume that the team thought of Jones as a security blanket this season not just on special teams but as part of the Ravens receiving corps as well. After all, Jones has vast experience in new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak system from their time together in Houston.
So far through five games it’s been exactly the opposite for Jones and the Ravens.
Playing in 112 total offensive snaps through the first five games as a receiver, Jacoby has been the third-most targeted receiver on the roster behind Steve Smith Sr. and Torrey Smith with nine targets. Of those nine targets, he’s hauled in four receptions for 50 yards, a wide receiver rating of 62.3, per Pro Football Focus.
“Jacoby is a guy who is full of spirit. I’ve heard people talk about his confidence, but I haven’t seen any difference in his confidence in the meeting room. He’s still the same Jacoby that we all love. He’s practicing hard,” special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg stated at the podium following practice on Thursday.
“We all want to see him catch the ball. We’re on his side, and we’re going to give him more opportunities to do that, because we know he’s an elite returner. But to be an elite returner, you have to have a ball in your hands. We need to get that fixed, and then give him an opportunity to run with it.”
Jones struggles so far in 2014 aren’t just related to lining up with the offense but have also shown up in his kickoff/punt return duties as well.
Per NFL.com stats, Jones currently ranks as the NFL’s 15th best kick returner (punts/kicks combined). Through five games, the former Pro Bowler, has returned just six kickoffs for 160 yards, averaging 26.7 yards per return, while returning just five kicks for 20 yards or greater.
While fielding punts, Jones hasn’t fared much better returning six punts for 67 yards, six fair catches and two fumbles including last week’s against the Colts, something coach Rosburg described as a “bad read”.
“He did get a bad read on the ball. When he got up there, he thought he had it, but he really didn’t have the ball lined up and the ball was cutting away from him, and that’s what happened. It hit the ground and hit him.”
Bad read or not it was certainly clear Rosburg wasn’t taking any chances after the botched return by Jones when he opted to insert Lardarius Webb to return punts even though Webby is still recovering from a back injury.
“That’s a good question. We actually had ‘Webby’ planning on taking all the punts in that area even prior to that,” Rosburg said.
That’s a tough one to sell coach but nice try.
Rosburg went on to add.
“That wasn’t a change in the game plan at all, because ‘Webby’ is an experienced returner [and] very sure-handed. The punter [Pat McAfee] we were facing had some balls that wiggled around back there, so our plan was to use him on that part of the field,”
“And when we had him backed up, we were going to have Jacoby in, so it played out just that way. Jacoby just didn’t get another opportunity after that.”
Jones will try to right his ways on Sunday against a Tampa Bay special teams unit that is allowing opposing kick returners an average of just 20.5 yards per return on kickoffs while allowing 12.9 yards a return on punts.
While it’s early to pull the plug on either Jones’ kick returns or pass catching reps, the coaching staff needs to keep a watchful eye if his struggles continue, especially with Michael Campanaro chomping at the bit.
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Gif courtesy of Gordon Dixon