Returner/receiver Jacoby Ford looked good against the Bears in his preseason debut. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
It’s been a frustrating couple of seasons for the Raiders’ Jacoby Ford, who has had trouble getting on the field because of injuries.
The wide receiver/kick returner, who played just eight games in 2011 and none in 2012, hasn’t really had the chance to try to duplicate the numbers he had as a rookie in 2010 when he had 25 catches for 470 yards and two TDs and was a dynamic special teams performer, returning three kickoffs for scores.
But with the release of veteran returner/receiver Josh Cribbs this past weekend, the Raiders are gambling that Ford is healthy and can be a key piece of their puzzle.
Cribbs had major knee surgery this offseason and never showed the quickness he’s shown in a terrific NFL career as a returner. The Raiders released him following Cribbs’ poor performance Friday night in a loss to the Bears.
It just so happened to be the same game in which Ford flashed his old form, returning a kickoff 62 yards.
“It was just one of those things where I didn’t see everything that I needed to see,” Raiders head coach Dennis Allen said of Cribbs’ release.
Now, Ford appears back to full speed after surgery to repair a Lisfranc foot injury that ended his 2012 season before it started, in training camp.
After nursing a problem with a tendon behind his knee early in this summer camp, Ford lately has shown the burst he showed in 2012.
Now Ford is excited to be playing again and eager to catch passes in offensive coordinator Greg Olson’s new scheme. Though it’s not certain yet who will be the starting quarterback for the season opener Sept. 8 – Terrelle Pryor will start Thursday night’s final exhibition game at Seattle after outshining Matt Flynn vs. the Bears – Ford figures Olson’s new scheme is a good one for him. It should feature plenty of short routes that have the possibility for Ford to turn into longer gains.
“It’s an offense that uses every single receiver that you have,” Ford told Raiders.com recently. “We have a whole bunch of different routes that you can either go deep or we have a lot of intermediate routes. We have a lot of short routes that we can turn into big plays.”
Three questions have arisen after three preseason games, however: Who's going to be throwing the passes? Will the offensive line be able to give the quarterback any time at all? And which receivers (aside from Ford) will make the roster?
So far, Rod Streater, Juron Criner and Denarius Moore all have been mostly quiet in games. Seventh-round pick Brice Butler has been impressive, as has Andre Holmes (who is facing a four-game suspension to start the season).
If Ford can keep doing what he did Friday night vs. Chicago, it will give the passing and kick-return games a huge boost.
Wrote ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson, who covers the AFC West: “The Raiders made a commitment to Ford by cutting Josh Cribbs, as they’re both similar players. The key for the explosive Ford is his health, which has been a problem.”
Raiders fans were just happy to see Ford do his thing again.
“Wow!” tweeted one Raiders fan after Ford’s long return Friday. “Remember Jacoby Ford? Yeah, that’s what he can do.”