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SAM FARMER / ON THE NFL

Spotlight doesn't shine on Jaguars' runaway sensation Maurice Jones-Drew

He's had five straight 100-yard rushing games, the NFL's longest active streak, but is not among top five Pro Bowl vote-getters for AFC backs. He has mellowed, knowing people know how good he is.

December 09, 2010|Sam Farmer

Maurice Jones-Drew is a running back, and always has been. But by John Madden's thinking, the Jacksonville star is pro football's best "corner" back.

"I've always had that theory that in the NFL as fans we kind of forget the teams on the corners of the map — Buffalo, Seattle, Jacksonville," Madden said in a phone interview Thursday. "I think the Jaguars are the most underrated team in the NFL."

Said Jones-Drew: "In Jacksonville, if we don't win games in a dramatic fashion or don't do something crazy in a game, you really don't see us on 'SportsCenter' or NFL Network."

Madden has known Jones-Drew since the player's Northern California days at De La Salle High School (back when he was known as Maurice Drew), and followed him throughout his career at UCLA.

"There's a connection there," Madden said. "We always root for him."

If so, Madden might have some conflicting feelings Sunday when the Jaguars play host to the Oakland Raiders, with both teams in the thick of the playoff hunt. Madden, of course, coached the Raiders to a Super Bowl victory and is still close to Al Davis and others in the organization.

That has no bearing, though, on the appreciation Madden has for Jones-Drew, who as a kid used to help cut his grass from time to time.

"One of my best friends lived right next door to him," Jones-Drew explained in a phone interview. "We used to come do his yard work for him. It was pretty cool."

Fast-forward a decade, and Jones-Drew is tearing up lawns all over the league. He's had five consecutive 100-yard rushing games, the NFL's longest active streak, and his 1,177 yards are second to the 1,230 of Houston's Arian Foster.

During his five-game hot streak, Jones-Drew has averaged 133.4 yards on the ground, significantly more than Cleveland runaway semi-truck Peyton Hillis, who is second over that span (100.4).

That said, Jones-Drew is not among the top five Pro Bowl vote-getters for AFC backs. Those are, in order, Foster, Tennessee's Chris Johnson, Hillis, the New York Jets' LaDainian Tomlinson and Oakland's Darren McFadden.

"If people want me in there, they'll vote me in," Jones-Drew said. "I'm not really worried about it. I'm just focused on trying to get past Oakland and get to the playoffs."

Over the years, Jones-Drew has mellowed a bit on the idea the spotlight seldom swings over to Jacksonville. That chip on his shoulder is now closer to a speck. People around the league have come to realize how good he is.

What's more, he has a realistic chance to nudge out Fred Taylor for the top spot among the Jaguars' top single-season rushers. Four more 100-yard games will get him there; Taylor ran for 1,572 yards in 2003.

Three of Jacksonville's final four opponents are ranked near the bottom of the league against the run. The Raiders are 23rd, Indianapolis is 29th, Washington is 28th and Houston is tied for 10th.

Raiders defensive tackle John Henderson, formerly a fixture on the Jaguars' front, issued a challenge this week.

"I want them to run all day," a dead-serious Henderson told reporters in Oakland. "Run the power, run the weak, run all that to me when I'm in the game. Please, run it. I'm telling him this, right now: Run it."

It's clear that Jones-Drew is not fixated on personal records. He's the first to mention his offensive linemen, his fullback, his tight end and former UCLA teammate Marcedes Lewis. Compliments are to Jones-Drew like linebacker hits — sure, you absorb a few, but let them glance off you whenever possible.

Maybe that's part of maintaining his edge, one sharpened by a lifetime of pessimistic predictions about his future in the game.

He is, says Madden, the classic "yeah, but" player.

"People would say, 'Yeah, he's a great high school player, but is he big enough to play in the pros? He was a great college player at UCLA, but is he big enough to take the pounding?' " Madden said. "Each step up was another yeah, but …

"If you're a great player, you're a great player wherever you are."

Even jammed in a corner.

No fly zone

Clearly, Champ Bailey has something left. The 32-year-old Denver cornerback shut down Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe on Sunday, holding him without a catch.

With all this talk about "Revis Island" of the Jets' Darrelle Revis, Broncos defensive coordinator Don Martindale says Bailey has an island of his own — well, an island city, really.

"Honolulu," Martindale told reporters, laughing.

Seeing as Bailey has made nine Pro Bowls, that makes sense.

Two more, too many?

NFL owners are in agreement about expanding the season to 18 games, but an increasing number of players are voicing their concerns about making an already punishing season even longer (even though it would mean turning two exhibition games into regular-season games.)

"It's no small thing," Kansas City guard Ryan Lilja said. "I think people are thinking, 'It's just two extra games.' But that's a lot more football, and a lot more wear and tear on guys."

He motioned to veteran center Casey Wiegmann across the locker room.

"Do you think Casey could have played 15 years with 18 games? No way," he said. "That adds up."

sam.farmer@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesfarmer

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