(Eds: With AP Photos.)By KRISTIE RIEKENAP Sports Writer
Receiver Jacoby Jones has been a role player on offense and a key contributor to special teams since the Houston Texans drafted him in the third round out of tiny Lane College in 2007.
The Texans are expecting Jones to do even more. Houston signed the free agent to a three-year deal worth more than $10 million, hoping he can help boost an already potent offense better known for Andre Johnson, Matt Schaub and Arian Foster.
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Jones shakes his head thinking about how much he’s matured in his years in Houston.
Early in his career, he had trouble with dropped passes on the field and wasn’t allowed to make a trip to Jacksonville to play the Jaguars in 2009 after he was late to a team meeting a day before the game.
”When I first got here, I was like a little kid running around all day,” he said. ”I’ve matured a lot. I had a lot of guys to look up to and learn from. Coach Kube (Gary Kubiak) took me under like one of his own and that was big.”
Jones said watching that Jacksonville game from home pushed him into getting himself together.
”That was really the light that went off and just shook me,” he said. ”I was like: `I never want to be in this type situation ever again.’ The guys took their time and had faith in me so I’ve got to buckle down.”’
And he did. The 27-year-old Jones hasn’t had any problems like that since, and he’s also taken a better approach to everything he does surrounding the game.
”He’s grown up from the standpoint of his preparation,” Kubiak said. ”Jacoby does a good job in the classroom now. So all those things of being a pro that make it easy to come out here and play, he handles that stuff now. Now he’s just got to work hard at re-finding his skills and running routes, studying players and if he does that, then there’s another level for him to reach.”
Jones, who has 96 receptions for 1,229 yards and nine touchdowns in his career, said being around the All-Pro Johnson helped him learn how to do things the right way.
”That guy, you look at him and he seems like he’s not really going hard, but it’s just that he makes it look easy because he’s so smooth,” Jones said. ”He’s detail-oriented and does everything right. So I look at a person like that and I try to use the same ways he uses.”
Jones has returned two punts and one kickoff for touchdowns in his career, which is tied for the franchise record for return touchdowns.
He will only return punts this season, with first-year Texan Danieal Manning taking over the kickoff return duties.
That will give Jones more time to focus on offense, where he’s coming off a season where he finished with a career-high 51 receptions for 562 yards. Johnson is the obvious starter at one of the receiver spots, but Kubiak said he also sees both Jones and Kevin Walter as starters.
Kubiak’s expectations for Jones this season are straightforward.
”Continue to make more plays,” Kubiak said when asked what he needs from Jones. ”He had his biggest year with us as a pro last year. He and Kevin pushed each other every day. I think all three of those guys as starters. That’s the reason we wanted him back on this team. I think he’s in position now to make even more and more plays.”
Jones knows what he needs to do, even if he isn’t looking to reach specific numbers this season.
”I’m not really setting any goals, as far as number of punt returns or kick returns or touchdowns or catches,” he said. ”I just want to play my role and whenever they on me to make a play, I make that play.”
Notes: Kubiak said LB DeMeco Ryans (elbow) could play on Saturday against San Francisco. He worked out with a trainer on a field away from the rest of the team on Wednesday. ”DeMeco’s doing a lot better today,” Kubiak said. ”He’s got his flexibility back. I didn’t want him out here because we were beating on each other a little bit today, so I’m trying to be smart.” … Kubiak said that RB Derrick Ward (concussion) will be cleared to play against the 49ers.