By TERRANCE HARRIS, SportsRadio 610

It’s become a familiar site each day at the Texans practice facility, fifth-year receiver Jacoby Jones arriving early and staying late to his hone his craft.

Jones seems in a zone when he’s one-on-one with the JUGS machine catching balls from every angle it fires them. The Texans No. 3 receiver has been preparing both mentally and physically for the opportunity he will likely receive Sunday when he starts opposite Andre Johnson in the No.2 slot when the Texans visit the Miami Dolphins.

Jones is filling in for the injured Kevin Walter (bruised collarbone), but there is also the feeling that this could be just be his time after years of seeing the potential.

“Honestly it’s starting to feel like you are at your senior year in college or high school,” Jones said this week to 610 SportsRadio. “It does feel like that to me but I’ve still got to stay detail-oriented and keeping up in my mind that it is the NFL. It’s what you can do for me now. Week in and week out I’ve still got to step up and make plays.”

As one of the most explosive talents on the Texans roster the past four seasons, Jones has certainly made his share of plays. He has established himself as one of the most dangerous punt returners in the NFL, as was on display during Sunday’s season-opening win over the Indianapolis Colts when he returned a punt 79 yards for a touchdown near the end of the first half to the delight of the fans in Reliant Stadium.

But Jones is ready to make his mark on the Texans offense.  His role and production have steadily increased during the past two seasons, so much so the Texans invested heavily in the free agent this summer by giving him a three-year, $10.5 million deal, with $3.5 million in guaranteed money.

But now Jones is ready to take it to the next level.

“I am more mature and now the biggest thing is to be more consistent,” who’s coming off a season in which he posted career highs in receptions (51) and yards (562) while catching three touchdowns. “Like now I work on my craft more than anything. Before and after practice I’m on that JUGS machine so that ball in the game don’t look no different to me. Slow it down and make the play.”

Texans coach Gary Kubiak has definitely taken notice of how Jones has buckled down and in a relatively short time become one of the hardest workers on the team. He also realizes that the often-times fun-spirited Jones has had an excellent model to follow in Johnson, an All-Pro receiver and a consummate pro.

“I think just being around Andre (Johnson) really is one of the biggest things that’s helped him,” Kubiak said. “You line up every day at practice and watch that guy work and you don’t learn how to do it the right way, then you’re not very attentive.

“He’s watched Andre. Andre’s done a good job with him not only on this field, but off this field and trying to help him grow up from that standpoint. It’s been a process, but he’s worked hard at the process.”

Johnson, too, has watched Jones’ develop from an inconsistent youngster with all the talent to a receiver who now understands the work that is necessary to be a play-making receiver in the NFL.

“When he first came he was young and some things he didn’t understand, attitude was a little different and things like that,” Johnson said.  “But year-by-year he has just grown and grown up.

“Like I said every year it’s just something different. He’s coming in and just working on his game and trying to get better so he’s improved a whole lot. He’s a very different person attitude-wise and football player wise than when he first got here. We expect big things from him.”

Jones does admit that having a chance to watch and work with a player the caliber of Johnson has been huge in his development. But Jones has also tried to learn from every receiver he has worked with over the years.

“Andre has helped me on and off the field,” said Jones, who caught three balls for 43 yards against the Colts. “Being around him and watching how he goes through and do things has helped me out and I’ve taken heed to it. I also have Kevin Walter around me. I’ve also had Andre Davis and Keenan McCardell (2007) around me (briefly) and a lot of veterans around to take me and help mold me.”

But now it seems on Jones to take what he has learned and elevate it. He has caught 78 balls for 999 yards and nine touchdowns the last two seasons, which gives hope there are big things coming down the road.

“It’s kind of fun to watch to be honest with you,” Kubiak said. “Watching him come here as a rookie and where he’s at right now, it’s night and day. Here’s an opportunity in his career to start. I know he’s excited for it.

“It’s like I tell ya’ll all the time, all you can ask for is a pro with a chance and he’s fixing to get a big opportunity if Kevin’s not ready to go.”

Jones is certainly looking forward to the opportunity but he has worked hard not to over think. In his mind, he has prepared for this week like he prepares every week to catch balls from the JUGS machine: slow it down and just make the play.

“I’m approaching it the same way as any other game,” said Jones, who has 99 catches for 1,272 yards and nine touchowns in his career. “I get myself ready, prepare myself the same way consistently on and off the field. It really is no different.”

Contact Terrance Harris at terrancefharris@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @Terranceharris

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