Mark Jones knows he literally dropped the ball last week when he had the opportunity to sew up the return role for the Tennessee Titans.
Jones fumbled after a 32-yard kickoff return and the Cleveland Browns recovered the turnover, eventually cashing it in for a touchdown.
On another return, there was confusion on a squib kick that landed between Jones and Chris Henry, a kick that Henry wound up fielding and picking up only three yards.
All that set Jones back in his quest to secure the return position for the Titans, a role he has one last chance to get a firm grip on Thursday night against Green Bay.
“I’m ready to relax and calm down. I think I was just a little too anxious,” Jones said. “I just wanted to go out there and try to show them something, and I got my first fumble and it was just hard to swallow and turn the ball over on one of your kickoff returns.
“That wasn’t me. That’s not what I’m about, putting the ball on the ground and not coming up with it. I’m just going to go out there and be patient with it and not try to force anything and just play like I know how to play.”
Jones will get the first opportunity on both kickoffs and punts, but Javon Ringer and Jason McCourty are likely to get a look again on kickoffs, while Tuff Harris might get another look on punts.
The competition might be even cloudier, but rookie Ryan Mouton, who can return both punts and kickoffs, is still bothered by a high ankle sprain and won’t play against the Packers.
Jones did not practice on Tuesday because he suffered a stinger that left him with tingling and numbness in his hands at the end of Saturday’s game. He saw seen by a doctor, however, and cleared to play Thursday night.
“I got dinged I think on my last kickoff return in the fourth quarter. I kind of lost a little feeling in my hands, and that’s what kept me out of practice today,” Jones said. “I saw somebody yesterday just to make sure everything was all right, and everything came back negative. Doc told me I’m cleared to play.”
Titans coach Jeff Fisher, who had a look of disgust on the sideline after one of the kickoff returns, wants to see someone step forward and secure the football and the return job, even though it can be a tough role to evaluate at times.
“We’re looking for improvement and good decisions, and we need to see some returns,” Fisher said. “Sometimes you have to be realistic when you’re evaluating returns, because sometimes you just don’t get a shot. The blocking support is not there.”
For his part, Jones, signed as a free agent from the Carolina Panthers for the express purpose of returning kicks, knows he is on notice to do better this week.
“What I did last year is in the past. What they’re gonna go off of is what I do this year, and I know that all they saw was the fumble and what I did last week,” Jones said. “I need to put together a good game, good returns and show them that, hey, I can get the ball and move upfield.”
Down to 75
The Titans reached the 75-man roster limit on Tuesday by releasing running back Rafael Little, receiver Dudley Guice, linebacker Tyson Smith and center Matt Lehr.
Of that foursome, Little is the most significant release, as the Titans signed him as an undrafted free agent last year and allowed him to spend the entire 2008 season rehabbing from a torn ACL.
Little was expected to vie for a backup running back spot this fall and perhaps have a chance as a kickoff or punt returner. However, the quick emergence of rookie Javon Ringer helped cut short his opportunities for carries in the preseason, and Little never really got much chance to show what he could do as a return man.
“He improved. He really improved over the last couple weeks,” Fisher said of Little. “We got a situation where we need to get through the ball game and that was one of the positions where we had big numbers at. We felt like it was just best to give the other guys an opportunity.”
Guice, an undrafted wide receiver from Northwestern State, appeared to have a fairly solid camp and preseason, but was caught near the back of a logjam of young receivers that included Dominique Edison and second-year man Lavelle Hawkins.
Smith and Lehr, signed just last week, were both latecomers to camp, picked up for depth purposes after injuries in training camp thinned their respective positions.
The Titans must trim the roster to 53 players by Saturday at 5 p.m.
Two Titans, who have been out for a while, returned to the practice field on Tuesday and should be a go against the Packers.
Right tackle David Stewart was back on the practice field, sporting a brace on his knee. Stewart has missed the past three preseason games because of the injury.
Also, defensive tackle Jason Jones practiced for the first time since the first week of the preseason, making his way back from a bone bruise in his foot.
Among the Titans who missed practice Tuesday were linebacker Josh Stamer (groin), tight end Jared Cook (foot), receiver Nate Washington (hamstring) and cornerback Ryan Mouton (ankle). Washington and Mouton are out this week, while Cook is likely to be held out as well this week.
Stamer ran full speed on the side, leaving Fisher to say he might have a chance against the Packers.
Defensive end Jevon Kearse (hamstring) was back on the practice field.