Felix Jones improving while listening to critics
IRVING, Texas — Felix Jones knew exactly what everyone was saying about him. He opened training camp by failing a conditioning test and then he became the public face of the Dallas Cowboys' embarrassing special teams unit.
But last Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, Jones ran for 92 yards while filling in for an injured DeMarco Murray, who had to leave the game. Even though the Cowboys lost, 31-29, the bright side was Jones, who appeared to have a burst that's been missing since he had shoulder surgery this past offseason, especially when he raced 22 yards down the sideline for a touchdown in the first half.
Some players claim they never pay attention to what's being said about them in the media, but Jones told FOXSportsSouthwest.com on Wednesday that he's heard everything. Most of the jabs centered on him appearing overweight, and at least one local radio host claimed to see Skittles falling out of Jones' pants during kick returns. So did the jokes serve as motivation?
"Absolutely. Absolutely!" he said. "I listened to all that stuff, but I tried not to let it get me down. And my teammates were extremely supportive. They kept encouraging me even when things weren't looking good."
And right on cue, Cowboys nose tackle Jay Ratliff walked over to Jones, put his arm around him and said, "Felix is the man." Even against a Ravens defense that had been vulnerable against the run, it was stunning to see the Cowboys put up 227 yards. One of the most enduring storylines this season had been the poor play of the Cowboys' offensive line. The running game had not been an option after the Week 1 win over the Giants because backs were being hit at, or behind, the line of scrimmage. The return of center Phil Costa to the starting lineup certainly played a role in the improved play, but other linemen finally appeared competent.
Former Panthers guard Mackenzy Bernadeau revealed Wednesday that he'd been called out by offensive line coach Bill Callahan last week. There were rumblings that Bernadeau, signed as free agent over the offseason, could lose his right guard spot to the immortal Derrick Dockery. But as Cowboys coach Jason Garrett noted, Bernadeau responded with his best game of the season.
"He knows when it's time to be blunt," Bernadeau said of Callahan. "He said he had higher expectations for me than what I was showing. He's a master of technique and that's really helped."
On Sunday, Callahan will try to build on his offensive line's best performance of the season. And it helps that Carolina is ranked 23rd in the league against the run. The Panthers have given up 127.4 yards per game and have allowed three running backs to surpass 100 yards.
Starting left guard Nate Livings didn't want to show any disrespect toward center Ryan Cook, but he admitted that Costa had a major impact against the Ravens.
"Phil's been here for a minute," Livings said. "And he knows exactly what we're trying to accomplish."
Costa returned to practice Thursday after missing Wednesday's session with a knee issue. Cook (hamstring) wasn't able to practice Thursday.
For one week, no one's talking about how bad this offensive line is, and the Felix Jones jokes have also been shelved. Of course, he knows he's only one bad game away from hearing the criticism.
"Hey, it's part of playing in this league," he said. "You take the bad with the good."