Punt returner Jacoby Jones looks to avoid the Bears' Adrian Peterson (29) during a punt return in the first quarter of Saturday's game against Chicago.
For a kid out of tiny Lane College, wide receiver Jacoby Jones could have been intimidated Saturday by a noisy crowd of thousands in his first NFL game. Instead, the 6-2 speedster wowed the Texans faithful with an impressive debut.
Jones led the team in receiving yards (47) and tied for the team high with four receptions, in addition to bringing back an impressive 22-yard punt return against the Chicago Bears Saturday in the 2007 preseason opener at Reliant Stadium.
"It was pretty fun," Jones, a third-round pick, said. "First game, but I wish we got the 'W' as a team. There's a lot more crowd (here) than at Lane College, 70,000. Lane holds 1,300."
Jones saw his first professional action 5:15 in the first quarter, when he lined up to receive a Brad Maynard punt. Fielding the ball along the sideline at his own 26-yard line, Jones zipped up field and used a hip fake that caused Chicago's Israel Idonije to whiff on a tackle attempt about 10 yards into the return. Jones then cut toward the middle of the field, where he was brought down after a 22-yard return by Bears special teamer Adrian Peterson.
Jones' runback was the longest by any Texans rookie in preseason history, edging out a 21-yard return by cornerback Vontez Duff in 2004.
Although Jones impressed during his first return, he wished that he had another shot at it.
"I wish I'd got it back." Jones said. "I should have kept running straight instead of cutting back. If I hadn't made the cutback, I'd probably have made it to the fences. But you've got to learn from mistakes."
Jones fielded two more punts later in the game, fair catching one and incurring a four-yard loss on the other. But Texans special teams coordinator Joe Marciano still was pleased with his rookie's effort.
"He had a nice return, didn't put the ball into the sideline or anything," Marciano said. "He made a good instinct run. He caught the ball. He fair caught the ball when he should have. The arena here wasn't too big for him, and we knew that, just from talking to him, interviewing him and practicing.
"He's a very confident young man. He's never played against big crowds in big arenas, but he's proven that he can handle the pressure and he belongs."
Jones' work as a wideout was equally as solid. He had receptions of seven, 12, 18 and 10 yards, with the final two occurring during a 12-play, 90-yard drive in the third quarter that ended in Jeb Putzier's six-yard touchdown reception.
The four receptions by Jones marked the second consecutive preseason game that a rookie has led the team in receptions. Wide receiver David Anderson had four catches for 49 yards against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2006 preseason finale.
Quarterback Matt Schaub was one Texan who took particular notice of Jones' record-setting night.
"I thought Jacoby came out and played really well," Schaub said. "I was pleased to see him in live game action, what he was able to do, (to) make some of those tough catches in traffic. Especially those returns, he had a couple of good plays there. So it was very encouraging to see him transfer what he does on the practice field into game action."
Jones considers his first professional game a success and knows that he learned some valuable lessons about both returning and receiving.
"Make one move and go," Jones said of his punt-returning technique. "I learned that tonight. In college, you can do all that dancing, but in the NFL you've got to hit it and go."
Looking ahead and hoping to solidify his playing time, Jones knows that continuing to hone his skills will only pay dividends in the future.
"I think I've got some more work to do," Jones said. "You can always get better."