Once again, Adam “Pacman” Jones is back with the Dallas Cowboys.
Thought to be out for the season because of a neck injury, Jones returned to practice Wednesday and is expected to play Saturday night, both at cornerback and returning kicks, after missing only one game.
“It surprised everybody,” coach Wade Phillips said. “He’s got nine lives. Maybe he’s got 18 lives.”
Jones was injured two Sundays ago against Pittsburgh in his first game after a six-week suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. Tests showed a herniated disk and there was talk of shutting him down for the season.
The Cowboys didn’t put Jones on injured reserve just in case he healed. Sure enough, doctors checked him out again this week and discovered he was healthy enough to play, prompting speculation this wasn’t a new injury; perhaps he already had the herniation and it was merely aggravated against the Steelers.
“It just wasn’t as bad as we thought,” Phillips said. “Once it was treated, it was better. … They said he’s ready to go. He seems ready.”
Said team owner Jerry Jones: “Our initial diagnosis there wasn’t that encouraging that he’d get back this quickly. We’re really excited about having him; we need him. I don’t know that we could have added anything personnel-wise that gives a lift like having him in the secondary.”
Dallas (9-5) plays Baltimore on Saturday night in a game between teams vying for wild-card berths in each conference. Having Jones back helps because it frees cornerback Anthony Henry to play more at safety, where the Cowboys are running out of healthy players. Starter Ken Hamlin didn’t practice Wednesday and may not all week; he didn’t practice last week, but played in the game. Fellow starting safety Keith Davis is fighting a variety of injuries, and their only backup, Tra Battle, strained a hamstring in the last game.
Quarterback Tony Romo practiced Wednesday despite his back being stiff and sore, but running back Marion Barber sat out because of his dislocated right pinkie toe.
Romo went through most of the workout and Phillips said Romo improved as he went along. Everyone seems confident he’ll be ready to play against the Ravens in what also will be the Cowboys’ last game at Texas Stadium.
“I’m sure it will be fine by Saturday,” Romo said on a conference call with Baltimore reporters. “I think it’s just part of playing football. Everyone gets banged up this time of year, and you get back out there and you play.”
Barber was injured on Thanksgiving and missed the Pittsburgh game. He was a game-time decision Sunday night against the Giants and wound up gaining only 2 yards on eight carries. Phillips said Barber likely will be a game-time decision again.
“I think he’s feeling better than he was last week at this time. That’s a positive sign. But it’s still early in the week,” Phillips said.
Jones was among the league’s best cornerbacks and punt returners in 2006 with Tennessee, but his off-field problems got him suspended for 2007 and eventually traded to Dallas.
He started at cornerback four of the six games before his latest suspension, and was the primary punt returner. After the suspension, he played in formations requiring extra cornerbacks and was used to punt and kickoff returns.
Jones averaged 4.6 yards per punt return this season and 16 yards on his three kickoff returns, far below others. Yet Phillips wants him back there because he’s proven he can get loose. His career averages are 11.2 yards on punts and 26.2 yards on kickoffs.
“Early in the year on the punt returns he was real close to having some big ones,” Phillips said. “He’s got a knack for running with the football, so I think you have to put him in there some to give him that opportunity and us that opportunity.”