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ADAM JONES has become famous for so many reasons—making it rain, flirting with pro wrestling, trying to rap, being interrogated by police, being interrogated by Roger Goodell—that it's hard to recall whether his football ability was ever one of them.
Jones is back on the field after a yearlong suspension for his off-field misdeeds, finding refuge in the most predictable place. Dallas has become the Boys Town of the NFL, owner Jerry Jones its Father Flanagan. Have a problem with your quarterback, your firearm or the Las Vegas police department? Here, as Flanagan says in the movie, there is no such thing as a bad boy.
Two years ago the Cowboys reformed wide receiver Terrell Owens, who had a history of alienating quarterbacks. Last year they brought in nosetackle Tank Johnson, who liked to store heavy artillery in his home. But those two are Silly Putty compared with Adam Jones, who has been arrested six times and had at least 10 encounters with police since Tennessee took him with the sixth pick in 2005. Even for Boys Town, Jones represents something of a challenge.
"What's new?" Owens says. "With Jerry, you know the unexpected will happen."
It's obvious why Dallas took a chance on Owens, perhaps the best receiver of his generation. Johnson, while not as celebrated, helped anchor the Bears' defensive line when they went to the Super Bowl in the 2006 season. But Jones, who was expected to be formally reinstated by Goodell sometime before the season opener, has not played since '06, when he had four interceptions and returned three punts for touchdowns. He was an exciting young talent, but no Pro Bowl player. The Cowboys, after trading a fourth- and a sixth-round pick to the Titans for him in April, slotted Jones as their third cornerback.
Why assume such risk for a guy who fills out the nickel package? Despite what the depth chart says, the club believes Jones has Deion Sanders--like athletic ability and plans to exploit it. Coach Wade Phillips says he might use Jones at receiver as well as on defense and have him return kickoffs in addition to punts. Clearly, Jones will soon start at corner.
"He's exceptionally quick, and he's got the great speed," Phillips says. "But he's also got a knack that some players don't have for seeing the football when he's playing man-to-man. A lot of players can only see their guy. He can see his guy, but he sees the ball at the same time."
In training camp veteran cornerbacks often position themselves to cover rookie receivers in one-on-one drills. But in Cowboys camp Jones went the other way, setting up to face Owens as much as possible. Whenever Jones broke up a pass, secondary coach Dave Campo came running over barking, "Nice job, Pac!" (Jones says he's fine with teammates and coaches using his well-known nickname; the media is another story.)
Owens and Johnson are fashioning themselves as mentors to Jones—which not long ago would have been an amusing notion. Their protégé will need more polish, as evidenced by Jones's reflections on the Titans. "I don't mean to say anything bad about Tennessee," he said early in camp. "But I don't ever want to go back to Tennessee. It sucks."
Dallas had the most talented team in the NFL before Jones arrived, and now it is even more so. The secondary, a perceived weak spot when it ranked 13th in pass defense last season, includes Jones, Terence Newman, Ken Hamlin, Roy Williams, Anthony Henry and rookie Mike Jenkins—a frightening ensemble.