Player Spotlight: Daryl Jones

Chicago - One of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal effort by the special teams against the Saints on Friday night was the coming out party for Daryl Jones, who busted a 69-yard kick return.

With Jerry Azumah out until October the Bears are missing one of their biggest offensive weapons. A year ago Azumah led the NFL with a 29.0 average per kick return and as a result earned a trip to the Pro Bowl.

The job appeared to be Bernard Berrian's to lose, but the third-round pick averaged only 15.4 yards on five returns with a long of 24 yards.

"It just takes a while," Bears special teams coach Dave Toub said of Berrian. "It's an experience thing. It's tough. I mean, it's faster in the NFL than it is in college."

Jones handled Friday night's kick returns against the Saints in the third preseason game and broke a 69-yarder in the second quarter. Ahmad Merritt continues to lead the team in returns with a 47.7-yard average, but for whatever reason seem to be a favorite among the coaching staff.

Meaning Jones, who totaled 3 kickoff returns for 115 yards, could now be the frontrunner for the opening.

"I gave that return everything that I had," Jones said after the game. "That is the kind of a situation that a kick returner prays for. There is daylight ahead and you have the ball."

Jones' background in track and field competition in both high school and college are evident in his strong bursts of speed, which make him an ideal kick return specialist. At the University of Miami, he led the Hurricanes senior year in punt returns with a 24.1 average, 169 yards on 7 returns.

"I think both track and football have helped me learn to make the most of my skills," Jones said. "I feel that I am a good fit for the NFL and a particularly good fit for this team. My instincts are there and I have both a fast reaction time and quick acceleration. My size is also a distinct advantage. At 5-foot-9, 188-pounder, I am smaller than many players but I think that gives me an advantage. I can be harder for the other team's players to see as a play unfolds, and I can maneuver well in a limited space."

The goal for Bears return men this season -- whoever gets the job in the absence of injured Azumah -- is averaging the 35-yard line for a starting point. Last year the Bears led the league in average starting point (38).

For Jones, a player needing to lock up a roster spot, finding a niche as the kick returner could be his way to make the team.

"I think the key is to find a specialty and be sure that you are the very best player that the coach can find to do that particular job," he said. "I've always had success on special teams so that is where I should be " I have confidence that I will succeed here and that I am the best man for the job. That makes me a stronger player."


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