Ravens impressed with Jacoby Jones' special skills
OWINGS MILLS -- Jerry Rosburg is convinced that Jacoby Jones' skills merit returning both punts and kickoffs.
The Baltimore Ravens are hoping for a hefty return on their investment of a two-year, $7 million contract in the former Houston Texans kick returner and wide receiver.
As the Ravens' special-teams coordinator, Rosburg caught his first glimpse of Jones' rare acceleration during the past couple of organized team activities as he watched the speedster catch punts from Sam Koch.
"He’s really fast," Rosburg said. "I knew that before, but I’d never seen it quite up close as I have. There are certain things you know about a guy, and certain things you don’t until you get up close to them. I did know he was fast, what I didn’t know is how hard of a worker he is and what a good teammate he is.
"And that’s been exciting, because he’s out here every day when Sam’s warming up. He wants to catch balls whenever he can. He’s excited about the opportunity to contribute on special teams, along with his offensive role. So, that’s probably the thing that’s been really heartening to see.”
The Ravens had been seeking an experienced returner throughout the offseason, meeting with San Francisco 49ers return specialist Ted Ginn Jr. during free agency. He decided to stay with the 49ers.
Jones has averaged 10.2 yards per punt return with three touchdowns. He has a career 23.3 yard average on kickoff returns with one score.
Last season, the 6-foot-2, 212-pounder averaged 10.6 yards per punt return with a 79-yard touchdown. He didn't return kickoffs last year.
"As a returner, it's not about what I do," Jones said. "It's the way I play: catch me if you can. If not, I'm gone. Other than that, I'm working to become a top receiver in the NFL."
Last year, the Ravens had a 9.6 punt return average as a team with starting cornerback Lardarius Webb averaging 10 yards per return and had one touchdown.
Signed to a $50 million contract, Webb is regarded as too valuable to risk on a regular basis on punt returns.
The Ravens had a 24.9 kickoff return average with kick return David Reed benched after fumbling twice in one game against the Seattle Seahawks. He later regained his job, but tore his anterior cruciate ligament in December and hasn't resumed practicing as he continues to rehabilitate after surgery.
Jones is an accomplished return man who had five punt returns 40 yards or more last season.
"We have a guy now that’s been successful, has experience being a returner," Rosburg said. "He’s got a lot of different skills, but the thing that stands out is he understands how fast he is, and he’s able to draw people in and then beat them.
"Some guys are fast but don’t know how to use their speed. Jacoby’s fast and he knows how to use his speed. That’s probably the thing that stands out to me.”
A former third-round draft pick, Jones was cut by the Texans after they drafted receivers DeVier Posey and Keshawn Martin.
Jones fumbled twice during the Ravens' AFC divisional playoff win over the Texans with one miscue leading to a Baltimore touchdown. That caused him to fall out of favor in Houston.
"Houston is a great organization, they gave me a chance," Jones said. "Things happened. It's a business. What happened is in the past.
"I got a new breath of fresh air. It's a great opportunity. Everything happens for a reason. I'm here, I'm a Raven now."
The 6-foot-2, 212-pounder has caught 127 career passes for 1,741 yards and 11 touchdowns, catching 31 passes for 512 yards and two touchdowns last season for the Texans.
Jones' combination of size, speed and return skills looks to be a good fit for the Ravens.
Although they have starting wide receivers in Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith, the reigning AFC North champions have been looking for a viable third wide receiver. Jones will compete with Tandon Doss and LaQuan Williams to solidify that position.
"'I'm happy to have him," Boldin said. "I think he's a good receiver as well as a good returner. I've been on teams that have been burnt by him. I remember in Arizona he took a punt back against us that made the game real close. I think just adding a threat like that on the outside is big for us."
"You have a guy with that kind of speed, him and Torrey outside, it opens up a lot of things you can do, me working inside with [tight ends] Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, bringing Ray [Rice] out of the backfield. It just opens up a lot for us."
Jones has a history of inconsistent hands as a wide receiver where he struggles with concentration and had a handful of drops earlier this week.
He's still getting accustomed to the Ravens' playbook and acclimated to his new teammates.
"It's fun to get back out there on that grass," Jones said. "I think I make that purple look pretty good, too. It's fun playing with Joe, Anquan and Torrey. Joe throws a nice tight spiral with a nice touch. I love this opportunity and I'm going to play my role. I just need to learn this playbook, get oriented with my new teammates and learn how Joe works."