August 8, 2015
By JOSH DUBOW
NAPA, Calif. (AP) – Taiwan Jones is making another position switch.
Two years after moving from running back to cornerback for the Oakland Raiders, Jones is going back to the offensive side of the ball.
Oakland’s new coaching staff led by head coach Jack Del Rio and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave decided earlier this offseason that Jones’ blazing speed makes him more valuable as a running back with the ball in his hands rather than as a cornerback trying to cover receivers.
“That was a no-brainer, especially the way Musgrave is going to play and do some things with him,” general manager Reggie McKenzie said. “We felt like we had a lot of young guys at corner. The thing with Taiwan, in my mind he’s a Pro Bowl special teams player. Finding a spot for him to make plays outside of that will be best for the offense.”
Jones actually played more running back than cornerback even in his two years as a defensive player. Jones ended up getting 12 snaps on offense in 2013 when Oakland’s running backs were decimated with injuries. He had five carries for 23 yards and caught two passes for 55 yards.
Jones never got a snap on defense in the regular season that year and then went down with a season-ending foot injury while playing special teams in last year’s season opener.
“I embraced my role on defense,” he said. “My goal was to get better there and make a career on that side of the ball. Once they asked me to come over my motto is whatever I can do to help the team.”
Jones’ biggest role remains on special teams, where his 4.33 speed in the 40-yard dash makes him stellar on coverage units and he will also be in the mix for returning kickoffs. Jones was tied for fourth in the NFL with 14 special teams tackles in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus.
But despite all that speed, Jones hasn’t been able to break off a long kick return yet, averaging 22.5 yards on 36 kick returns with a long of 46 yards. In fact, Jones has yet to score a single touchdown. He has 27 carries for 117 yards and six catches for 91 yards in 41 career games.
The Raiders expected more big plays when they drafted him in the fourth round out of Eastern Washington in 2011. Jones ran for 2,955 yards and averaged 7.7 yards per carry in college, scoring 36 touchdowns in two seasons as a running back in college.
“He’s got speed to burn,” Musgrave said. “He’s done a nice job learning our system. I feel like he has very few mental errors and it’s hard to replicate speed like that. It’s hard to simulate that in practice. So, when he gets in the game he can definitely have an advantage against some defenders.”
Jones has looked good so far in practice, getting extra playing chances because of injuries to running backs Trent Richardson, Michael Dyer and Roy Helu Jr. He has broken off a few long runs in team drills, although he did also lose a fumble.
Jones said it didn’t take long in training camp for him to feel like a running back once again.
“It feels pretty good,” he said. “Offense has always been natural to me. Just being back there and getting the reps, I’m starting to feel pretty good.”
NOTES: The highlight from practice came when Derek Carr connected with rookie Amari Cooper on a deep pass over CB DJ Hayden. … LB Sio Moore did not practice and LB Malcolm Smith did not take part in team sessions. Spencer Hadley got time with the first team with those two out. … WR Rod Streater remains on the non-football illness list. … TE Clive Walford also has not practiced since the start of camp with an undisclosed injury. … RBs Michael Dyer, Roy Helu Jr. and Jamize Olawale and RT Menelik Watson remain sidelined with injuries.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL