Ravens' Jacoby Jones remains patient despite challenging season
By By Aaron Wilson and The Baltimore Sun
Nov 21, 2013 | 9:07 PM
Ravens kick returner and wide receiver Jacoby Jones bellows to his teammates prior to every kickoff, making certain no one has to strain to hear him.
"Jacoby is the type of guy where you can hear his mouth, 'Let's do it guys, let's go get it,'" said tight end Ed Dickson, one of Jones' blockers on returns.
Although Jones' message of encouragement isn't falling on deaf ears, this has been a much quieter season than the 2012 Pro Bowl selection envisioned as he's been unable to replicate his star performance from last season.
Jones emerged as a pivotal all-purpose contributor last season, delivering some of the Ravens' most electrifying plays during their Super Bowl XLVII run. The New Orleans native's elaborate touchdown dances even landed him a spot on Dancing With the Stars last spring.
However, there hasn't been much for Jones to dance about this season as he's rarely been able to break loose on offense or special teams.
Jones' year got off to a rough start after he sprained the medial collateral ligament in his right knee when teammate Brynden Trawick rolled into him as he was signaling for a fair catch in the season-opener against the Denver Broncos. Jones missed the next four games because of the injury.
On Sept. 24, Jones suffered a minor laceration when a woman a struck him in the head with a champagne bottle while on a party bus celebrating then-Ravens offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie's birthday. Jones declined to comment about the incident this week and hasn't spoken about it since briefly addressing it on his weekly radio program.
Despite the diminishing returns during what's been a hard-luck year, Jones insists that his confidence hasn't been dented.
"All you can do is be patient," Jones said Thursday. "When it's time to make a play and they call your number, you got to step up and make it. That's all part of being a pro.
"You've got to keep the faith, knowing that your play is going to come at the right time. We've always been close. It's just the rhythm of the game and the timing. We're going to make those plays. They're going to happen in due time."
Jones' sense of timing was impeccable last season, especially in the Super Bowl. He returned a kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown, added a long touchdown reception and compiled a Super Bowl record 290 all-purpose yards. During the Ravens' AFC divisional-round win over the Denver Broncos, it was Jones' dramatic 70-yard touchdown catch late in regulation that sent the game into overtime.
Now, Jones is ranked 13th in the NFLin kickoff returns as the Ravens prepare to face the New York Jets on Sunday. He is averaging 23.7 yards on kickoffs with no scores. Jones led the NFL a year ago with a 30.7 kickoff return average with two run back for touchdowns.
"Without a doubt, he's still one of the most explosive players on this team," Dickson said ."We've got to find a way on offense to get him the ball, and we've got to block for him on special teams. .. I think Jacoby's the same player. He just has to find his niche.
"He can still have breakout games. Big players show up in big games, so look for big things coming from Jacoby. We need to do a better job of blocking for him on special teams. He's one block away from breaking one."
Jones attributes the decline in production to becoming a marked man by opponents with plenty of kickoffs angled toward the corner of the end zone.
"They don't sleep on me anymore," Jones said. "I've always got a bulls-eye on me. Every time they kick the ball out there, I think I'm going to break it.
"You just never get that kick. They want to kick it away from us, kick it to the corner, trying to pin us. They're just kicking squib kicks to the corner, so I can't get to the ball."
Jones averaged 9.2 yards per punt return last season with one touchdown, but has only returned three punts for three yards this season.
When Jones has had an open lane on a return this season, he is bottled up before he can accelerate into the open field.
"We're striving for that, for big plays for Jacoby, because we all know that he can be that," special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. "He's had a couple opportunities. We had one on Sunday that looked like he might get out of there and then didn't quite get there.
"As you know, that's an 11-man operation. It's not just one man making a touchdown. We've got guys that now have gained a lot of experience. The results, I think, are coming. I'm confident that we'll be better and better as we go down the road here."
Jones is not blaming his struggles on his knee injury. He is no longer listed on the injury report and has been playing for the past five games with no setbacks to his knee. Meanwhile, Jones' teammates say they haven't noticed any frustration in Jones' demeanor.
"Honestly, Jacoby's like my big brother and took me under his wing, and looking at him outside in, he's handled everything like a professional," rookie wide receiver Marlon Brown said. "He hasn't been too high or too low. He's staying even-keel. It's going to pay off for him soon."
Offensively, Jones hasn't been involved much as he's caught 17 passes for 160 yards with one touchdown while being targeted just 25 times by quarterback Joe Flacco as they've frequently struggled to connect for significant yardage.
"I'm running routes every day after practice with Joe," Jones said. "We're getting there. They throw the ball, I catch it. It's just how the flow of the game goes. It's there. Those plays are going to come. We've got six games left to play and more games if we make the playoffs. There's still time."
This is a contract year for Jones, the final season of a two-year, $6.5 million contract that included a $1.8 million signing bonus. Ideally, Jones said he'd like to return next season, but he'll need a new contract in order for that to happen.
"Yeah, of course, I plan on retiring here," said Jones, who's making $4 million this season. "We're going to leave that up to the upstairs [Ravens management] and my agent [Kennard McGuire]. Right now, all I can do is play ball."