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September 28, 2013

Seeking increased returns

Watching film of punt returns can be a frustrating exercise for TJ Jones and other members of the special teams unit.

It would be one thing if the group was a long way off from game breaking success. But overall things are improved from last season. Notre Dame is averaging 8.6 yards per return and, in the eyes of Jones, is so very close to popping one for a big gain or perhaps a touchdown.

Jones, who volunteered for return duty in hopes of jumpstarting things, is hopeful that big play isn’t far from happening.

“From a lot of the film it’s just one block sometimes, two blocks,” Jones said. “From a lot of the returns we’ve seen I’ll go, we’ll look to hit a seam, and then one block may fall off close to the seam and it’s gone. So, really, it’s kind of a little bit of luck I would say. Everybody being at the right place at the right time for maybe just a couple seconds. Just enough time for me to get vertical.”

Transforming the unit into something more productive continues to be a work in progress, Jones included. Jones continues to try and strike a balance between aggressiveness and playing it safe while adhering to some critical fundamentals.

So far this season Jones has mix quality returns with a couple miscues, notably a fumble trying to field the ball and running into his own player. Both were preventable.

“With the one where I ran into my own person, they’ve preached be aggressive and field every punt you can,” Jones said. “If I didn’t run into them I felt I still could’ve fielded it. From the way the film looked it landed maybe two yards to the left of me after I got hit.”

Jones has taken steps to correct such mistakes both in terms of practice and cosmetics.

He plans to use a smaller mouthpiece Saturday against Oklahoma so other members of the punt return team can hear him make calls better in a stadium full of 80,000 people or more. Jones made that change on his own.

Otherwise the senior captain plans to stick with some basic principles and try not to take any returns for granted.

“It’s really just not getting comfortable,” Jones said. “Just looking the ball in, keeping your arms tight. But it’s not something you really have to overly think about. Just go back to doing what I was doing weeks before.”

Doing so could help Jones inch closer to the big return he’s been seeking. That could wash away some of the mixed feelings about recent results.

“It’s a little frustrating but it’s also exciting,” Jones said. “You kind of see the potential and you never know which return is gonna be the one that you break. Every return kind of has a new adrenaline rush to it.”







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