Bears' Jones finds his special niche
The Cardinal O'Hara graduate is keeping his career alive - on the suicide squads.
CHICAGO - The competitive side of Kevin Jones refused to accept the role of sideline spectator.
Jones, a graduate of Cardinal O'Hara, knew his chances of becoming the Chicago Bears' go-to back dwindled with every Matt Forte touch. Then when Adrian Peterson suddenly became the backup, Jones was left with no other choice but to swallow his pride.
So he stepped into coach Lovie Smith's office two weeks ago to ask why he was no longer in the plans at running back and to say he was willing to play on special teams if it meant a chance to see the field. Smith assured him that the lack of playing time was nothing personal, and the coach welcomed another body on special teams.
"A lot of people still have jobs in the NFL because they play special teams," Jones said. "But I just wanted to send a message that I'm not here for a free ride. I wanted to send a message to the Bears and to every other team that's looking that I can be valuable."
Jones, 26, who was inactive for four games before Thursday night's victory over New Orleans, made an immediate impact in his new role. He led the Bears with three special-teams tackles against the Saints, seeing action on the kickoff and punting teams.
"It wasn't that hard of an adjustment," he said. "I know I'm a running back. But at the same time, I feel like before college - I'm a football player naturally, and a physical one at that. That's why I run physical.
"It's not going to affect me to go down there and hit somebody. The weird thing was I was running all-out. Sprinting down 50 yards each time, then chasing a guy around, you get a little gassed."
Jones contends that he is content, at least for now. He signed a one-year contract with the Bears this season after an injury-riddled career in Detroit, and had hopes of teaming with Forte to form a potent one-two punch. But the durable Forte proved capable of handling the full load, making Jones an afterthought. Jones carried the ball 32 times for 110 yards through the first six games and only two times for minus-1 yard since.
"I'm not a jealous guy," Jones said. "I know what I'm worth. So Matt being a good back and the starter doesn't make me any less of a back or any less of a person.
"Matt is the present and probably will be the future of the Bears. And they're not going to remove him. So if doesn't happen here for me, it's going to happen somewhere. That's the way I look at it."
Jones can relate better to his current situation because he has been on the opposite side. A first-round pick of the Lions in 2004, Jones ran for 1,133 yards as a rookie and was a Pro Bowl alternate. His great promise made other backs such as Shawn Bryson and Olandis Gary dispensable.
"I played well and there were other backs who could have played but didn't because I was," Jones said. "I was the drafted rookie, and when they expect you to do something, they give you chances. And that's just how it is."
There has been speculation that the torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in his right knee last year might have limited his opportunities this season.
"My knee is good," Jones said. "If you are asking me if that's the reason I'm not playing, that's definitely not the reason."
"He has continued to get better throughout," the coach said.
Smith emphasized that Jones didn't dress for some games because he wasn't on special teams. With key special-teams contributors such as Garrett Wolfe, Darrell McClover and Brandon McGowan on injured reserve, there was a place for Jones on several units.
Jones played on special teams early in his college career at Virginia Tech, and was on the scout punting team during practices earlier this season.
"Kevin has requested to do anything to help the team since day one," Smith said. "He has been the ultimate team player for us."
Evidence of Jones' team-first attitude was on display Thursday. When Forte returned from the locker room after suffering a toe injury, Jones was among the first to greet him on the sideline.
"I just told him we needed him back in there because he makes plays for the offense," Jones said.
"The thing is, I came here because I wanted to win," he said. "Of course, I wanted to do it at running back. But if they wanted me in there at running back, I'd be in there. Now I just have to be the best special-teams player I can be. But I know I can still be a featured back in this league."