HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – It sounds as though Texans coach Gary Kubiak and his staff enjoyed the opportunity to see a different side of an adversary when they coached Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew during the Pro Bowl.
Jones-Drew may have had a slightly different motive while working closely with the Jags rival.
“I think they thought I was being nice, but I was trying to get everything I could out of them,” Jones-Drew joked this week as he prepares to take on the Texans on Sunday in Jacksonville. “I didn’t get much, so they did a good job with that.”
You would have thought it would have been the Texans who were gathering insider information on Jones-Drew in effort to figure some way to slow diminutive back down, which has been a mystery few teams have solved. Standing at just 5-foot-7 and 208 pounds runs with a degree of leverage, power and explosiveness that has that has made plenty of defensive linemen twice his size look plain silly on Sundays.
“I don’t want to call him short but he’s got built in leverage with them big old legs he got,” said Texans defensive end Antonio Smith. “When you hit him it’s like a little bowling ball.”
Last season Jones-Drew rolled through defenses with what seemed like relative ease as he led the NFL in rushing yards with 1,606 yards on the ground which was more than Baltimore’s Ray Rice, Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson and the Texans’ Arian Foster.
But what Jones-Drew quickly found out this summer is that numbers – even much better numbers than your peers – do not automatically translate into instant windfall. He had hoped the new Jaguars leadership would recognize his value and his status as an elite running back in this league and pay him as such.
When they didn’t, Jones-Drew held out of training camp and missed all of the preseason in hopes of getting new deal to replace the one he has with two years remaining. Tensions flared and rumors swirled but when it was over, Jones-Drew ended his holdout Sept. 2 with no new deal and a hefty fine to pay for his absence.
Not quite how he envisioned things going for sure.
“I really don’t know and really don’t care,” Jones-Drew said when asked if he thought having a new owner and head coach hindered him getting a new deal. “They didn’t plan it out that a new owner came in and a new head coach came in when all these things went down, but that’s neither here nor there.”
But as much as things have changed, they certainly have seemed to stay the same. Just as Jack Del Rio had done so often, new Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey showed last week he will ride Jones-Drew. Just days after Jones-Drew ended his holdout, he was on the field rushing the ball 19 times for 77 yards in the season opener against Minnesota.
Mularkey said he had no choice but to work Jones-Drew extended snaps because backup Rashad Jennings was sidelined.
So much for a breaking in period.
“I wasn’t planning on 19,” said Mularkey, whose team lost the season-opener 26-23. “I’m glad he was there available to us.”
And from the sounds of it, one of the league’s most durable backs was only too glad to be available.
“I was healthy, fast, fresh. I felt great,” he said. “I obviously played a little bit more than we thought I would. At the same time, my conditioning was there. Obviously, you still have to work. Everybody was a little gassed on some of those 18-play drives we had.”
What was most amazing is that at times Jones-Drew looked exactly like himself despite having been apart from his team all summer and also the fact he was playing in a new offense. The way Jones-Drew handled himself with little preparation time might have surprised quite a few but Kubiak wasn’t one of them. He had seen how he works during the Pro Bowl.
“You know he’s a guy that takes great care of himself and he’d be ready to go when he came back,” Kubiak said. “It’s a big challenge for us. He’s obviously a great player. He’s going to get his touches. He’s very difficult to tackle so we got to put a big emphasis this week on tackling and finishing plays defensively.”
Last season, Jones-Drew was amazing as the Jacksonville only real weapon. But the continued growth of second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert could loosen up defenses that will now have to respect the passing game. Gabbert struggled mightily last season but Jones-Drew is among several who say they have seen a difference in the young quarterback this season.
“This offense is tailored towards Blaine instead of Blaine being tailored towards the offense,” Jones-Drew said. “He knows everything and he commands.
“He’s more comfortable back there. We have a lot of guys around making plays for him. I think he still has a long way to go but he’s come so far already.”
What that means is for now Jones-Drew will remain the focal point and the one the Texans have to stop if they want to get to 2-0 after Sunday afternoon’s game.
“He’s one of the best running backs in the league,” Smith said. “At any given time, he can big plays happen. He’s always made big plays happen. He’s always been these past few years top of the league in rushing. Whether he on a good team or a bad team, he’s always dangerous.”