Jonesing To Return Kickoffs

FAYETTEVILLE — Before every game, Felix Jones likes to run through plays in his mind. He visualizes where he's going to run and what holes he's going to hit.

But as soon as the opening kickoff comes his way, there is no time to think. Everything just moves so quickly, and all the sophomore can do is react to what he sees in front of him.

"The game is fast, and we've just got to move as fast as we can," Jones said. "We've got to find the holes and just hit it with all our speed."

It sounds easier than it really is, and Jones made it look much simpler when he raced 100 yards on the opening kickoff of Saturday's 38-3 win over Ole Miss in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

Jones caught the kickoff in the end zone, burst through a hole in the middle of the field, sprinted past several defenders and ran untouched for a touchdown.

From the time the ball was kicked to the moment that Jones celebrated his second career 100-yard return, the play took 18 seconds.

"It's a great feeling. You really can't explain it," Jones said, cracking his trademark smile as he recalled the kick return Tuesday evening. "Something from inside just makes it even better when you run 100 yards."

That was Jones' only kickoff return against the Rebels, but it was more than enough for him to be named the Southeastern Conference's special teams player of the week.

The kickoff return also came as a relief for Jones. Before Saturday, he had not gotten much of a chance this season to show the type of explosiveness that made him an All-America kick returner as a freshman a year ago.

His previous long this season was a pair of 23-yard returns at Vanderbilt and No. 7 Auburn.

"It's hard to return a kickoff," said Arkansas tight ends coach James Shibest, who also coaches special teams. "If you look around the country, we return one and we're leading the SEC. So it ain't any easy thing to do. There are great kickoff coverage teams, especially in the SEC."

Fans had waited to see Jones break a long kickoff return this season, and Shibest admits the special teams struggled early on with several newcomers blocking upfront.

But all it took was a 100-yard kickoff return to make everything look better.

With Jones' lone return against Ole Miss, No. 13 Arkansas moved atop the SEC in kickoff returns with an average of 26.5 yards per return. The Razorbacks rank ninth nationally in that category.

Shibest said he expected teams to kick away from Jones this season, especially considering how the speedy running back finished second in the nation last season with an average of 31.9 yards per kickoff return. But that hasn't necessarily been the case.

Jones' average kickoff return is down five yards from a year ago, but the 6-foot, 208-pound sophomore still ranks third in the SEC and No. 17 nationally with a 26.9 yard per kickoff average.

"We can't break every one of them," Jones said, referring to kickoffs. "We try to, but it's football. They're supposed to stop (them) sometimes."

Shibest said he loves using running backs as kick returners because they have great vision and great instincts. Jones has shown both over his first two seasons.

He returned a kickoff 100 yards in last season's 44-10 win over Mississippi State, and his long return Saturday made him the second player in Arkansas history to have two kickoffs go the entire length of the field. Boyd Cypert accomplished the same feat in 1911.

Jones still has time to break another 100-yarder.

"He's just a really smart guy when it comes to football," said junior Peyton Hillis, Arkansas' leading punt returner this season. "He has a really good knack for the game, and he can play a lot of different positions. Kickoff return is one of them.

"He knows how to find holes and get through them and make people miss."

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