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Jones a star in the making


GLENDALE, Ariz. -There are many reasons why rookie Jacoby Jones shouldn't be successful in the NFL. Count his small-school roots and small hands as two of them.

What Jones may lack, though, does not remotely compare to what he offers from a talent and skill standpoint. In the past month of training camp, that much has proven to be true. Saturday afternoon at University of Phoenix Stadium was just another example.

The third-round draft pick from Lane College caught two passes for 32 yards – both for first downs – and gained another 24 yards on two reverses against the Arizona Cardinals' first- and second-team defenses. But the play that had the press box buzzing, and Cardinals fans shaking their heads, came on an 80-yard punt return touchdown late in the third quarter.

{QUOTE}With Arizona's coverage fast approaching, Jones rolled the dice in not calling a fair catch. He avoided one defender, broke right toward the Texans' sideline and then crossed the length of the field to elude the punter for an open path to the end zone.

"That was my first return of the day, and I was like real anxious to touch it, so I was just taking a chance at it," Jones said. "Special teams did a good job blocking, so the outcome was good.

"When Harry Williams and Fred Bennett threw some good blocks, my eyes got big and I knew I was out of the gate."

Jones made sure to keep the ball.

"I gave up the ball when our trainer Matt (Grupp) said he was going to put it in the truck for me," Jones said. "That's my momma's ball right there."

The touchdown broke open the game for the Texans, and earned Jones some adulation once he returned to the sideline. Players and coaches rushed to congratulate the young wideout.

"Boy, that play he made on the punt, to even field the punt? Me, I'm talking in the headset, expecting him to make a fair catch," coach Gary Kubiak said of Jones. "He's fearless. He's a playmaker, and you know, we've got something special right there. We just need to keep him going. But boy, is he a good football player."

The touchdown was redemption for Jones, who missed a similar opportunity a week earlier versus Chicago, when a cutback proved costly and he picked up 22 yards on a punt return that could have gone the distance.

He lamented that missed opportunity all week. In front of a national audience on NFL Network, Jones proved that there's no stage too big for him, even if he's more accustomed to playing in front of bleacher seats.

"I thought I was going to be a little nervous, but I was excited more than anything," Jones said of the game. "Anxious, ready to play, that's all."

With Jones and a healthy Jerome Mathis, the Texans' return game has become a key strength as the team enters the midway point of the preseason. Mathis busted loose for a 78-yard kickoff return against Chicago, but didn't get many opportunities at Arizona.

Field position is commonly overlooked in favor of turnover ratio when it comes to statistics that determine the outcome of a game. But most coaches realize how crucial the kicking game is to the success of a team. If the Texans can force their opponents to kick away from them simply out of fear of Jones and Mathis, that is a huge advantage.

Given how Jones has performed this preseason, it's natural to wonder where he stands on the depth chart. Wide receiver Kevin Walter maintains his spot as the second receiver on the depth chart, but Kubiak said the competition is heating up.

"I think there's an excellent chance (Jacoby is) going to be on the field a lot," Kubiak said. "I think he's pushing Kevin extremely hard to get on the field, but I also think Kevin's playing good football. In the National Football League, you're probably going to play three (receivers) anyway, but I think right now he's pushing the heck out of (Walter)."

Jones and Walter do compete against each other in practice, but Jones says he's happy in any role, whether that's being the second receiver or a special teams ace. His contributions on offense and in the kicking game certainly reflect that selfless attitude.

"It's just letting them know I'm a role player, I can do whatever they want me to do," Jones said. "Whenever they need me to do something, I'll be able to do it to help the team out.

"When they call my number, I've just got to make sure to make plays."

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