NEW ORLEANS Baltimore wideout Jacoby Jones almost didn’t get a chance to enjoy his mother’s gumbo this week.
Jones, a New Orleans native, visited Charlotte last spring on a free agent tour and was set to sign with the Panthers. But after his agent encouraged him to take his final visit to Baltimore, Jones signed with the Ravens and ended up in his hometown for his first Super Bowl.
Jones said he met with Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and former offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski during his visit, and came away impressed. “It was great,” Jones said Wednesday. “I was like, ‘Man, I’m leaning this way.’ ”
Jones said the Panthers’ offer was similar to the two-year, $7 million deal he received from the Ravens, whose team unity was the deciding factor.
“When I walked in the locker room, I was done. I was like, ‘I’m signing,’ ” Jones said. “How these guys act to each other, it was like a family.”
Jones’ 30 receptions were third most among the Ravens’ wideouts, trailing Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. He averaged 30.7 yards a kick return – tops among players with at least 17 returns.
Jones said he would have been the Panthers’ No. 3 wideout, but wasn’t sure he would get to return both kicks and punts.
“They were kind of decided on Brandon LaFell” as the second wideout, Jones said. “He played pretty well. They had a returner (Kealoha Pilares). And they had a guy (Joe Adams) they drafted. I was looking at that, too.”
With a Super Bowl trip that included his mother making 150 plates of Cajun food for the Ravens, Jones said he made the right choice.
“The fun part is playing in the Super Bowl, period. A lot of great players and Hall of Famers haven’t made it to the Super Bowl,” Jones said. “But just playing in New Orleans, that puts the icing on the cake.”
MASS EXODUS: Ravens nose guard Ma’ake Kemoeatu was part of the Panthers’ roster purge before the 2010 season that saw the team cut ties with a number of high-priced, veteran players. After spending last season out of football, Kemoeatu is pleased to be playing in his first Super Bowl and holds no grudges against the Panthers.
“It was a business decision they had to make. I have no complaints,” Kemoeatu said. “I love Charlotte. I love the Carolina Panthers. They paid me when I got over there, so what do I have to complain about?”
Kemoeatu, who tore his Achilles and missed the entire 2009 season, said he knew the Panthers were starting over when players such as quarterback Jake Delhomme and defensive end Julius Peppers departed.
“Peppers left and they just pretty much cleaned house, then rebuilt again,” he said. “I’m happy for them. They still have a lot of talent. Jon Beason, DeAngelo Williams and TD (Thomas Davis). They have a bright future ahead of them.”
Kemoeatu nearly ate his way out of the NFL. Five months after weighing in at 415 pounds for a workout with Baltimore last year, Kemoeatu returned for a second workout with the Ravens 70 pounds lighter.
They signed him to be a run-stuffer and space-eater to keep blockers off Ray Lewis and the other linebackers. Kemoeatu closed the regular season against Cincinnati with his first sack since 2005 and has nine tackles in three postseason games.
MAKING THE ROUNDS: A few days after playing in the Senior Bowl, former Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene visited the Super Bowl media center Wednesday. Greene, a safety until then-Rutgers coach Greg Schiano switched him to linebacker, said the Panthers were among the teams he met with in Mobile last week.
The Panthers drafted a middle linebacker last year in Luke Kuechly, who led the league in tackles and is a candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Greene, projected as a second- to third-round pick, expects to play weakside linebacker in the NFL.
Greene believes his speed is his best attribute. “Being fast and being instinctive,” he said. “Just seeing a play and reacting to it, and going and getting the ball.”
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