It’s surprising that someone who scored three unforgettable touchdowns during the Ravens’ Super Bowl run then spent his spring shimmying on national television is getting overlooked in the discussion about who will be the other starting wide receiver opposite Torrey Smith, but Jacoby Jones isn’t getting mentioned enough.
Maybe it's because Jones had just 30 catches for 406 yards and a touchdown a season ago. Maybe it’s because he didn’t pan out as a starter during five seasons with the Houston Texans. Or maybe it’s because important people in the organization heap praise on Deonte Thompson whenever the microphones come out.
But despite all that -- and barring the signing of another veteran wide-out -- Jones is the frontrunner to start.
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The media has gotten just a brief look at Jones during voluntary offseason workouts. Jones was still “Dancing with the Stars” during the first week of organized activities. He was in the house last week, and in Friday’s practice open to the media, Jones was running opposite of Smith with the first-team offense. It’s hard to draw conclusions from one OTA, but Jones showed little rust.
With Anquan Boldin gone, the 28-year-old is the most experienced receiver on the roster. He has played in 91 games, starting 24 of them, and caught 157 passes for 2,147 yards and 12 touchdowns. In his last two seasons with the Texans, where he was at best third option behind Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels, he started 17 games and caught 82 passes for 1,074 yards and five scores.
Jones was a disappointment in Houston, but he made the most of his opportunities in his first season in Baltimore, particularly in the playoffs, when he averaged 29.4 yards on five receptions.
“I think you are going to find, obviously, that he is going to get more opportunities,” Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said Friday, adding, “I think across the board you are going to find that it’s going to get spread out a little bit more.”
That’s why the camp competition at wide receiver is about more than just who will start opposite Smith. Regardless of whether Jones, Thompson, Tandon Doss or Free Agent X is a starter, Jones is still going to have an important role in three-receiver sets, and there will be opportunities for others. I wouldn’t be surprised if the No. 2 and No. 3 receivers ended up having similar snap counts.
Different situations will likely call for different wide receivers.
Jones is not a great route runner or a sure-handed possession receiver, so it won’t always make sense to have him and the speedy Smith on the field together. But when they are, having that kind of deep speed on both sidelines will open things up for other receivers, including tight end Dennis Pitta, underneath the coverage. That’s why expanding Jones’ role in 2013 makes sense.
“I do think he has the ability,” Caldwell said. “There’s no question about that. He has the ability to do it. He can catch. He can run. Obviously, he is still going to serve our special teams and serve them well in his role that he plays for them. But then obviously, we will use him, certainly, as a big part of our offense as well.”
And that should be the case whether Jones is the starter or not.
For what it’s worth, Jones is not clamoring, at least not publicly, for an increased role. He said on Friday -- after answering a bunch of questions about dancing -- that he will do whatever the coaching staff asks him to do.
“You all know how I am, I just play my role,” Jones, a Pro Bowl kick returner, said. “Whatever they want me to do, I’m ready to do it. I think the whole receiving corps as a whole, we’ve all got to step up and make plays.”
As training camp nears and opportunity knocks, Jones is second in line behind Smith. We’ll see if he steps up.