As a rookie with the 2015 Redskins, Matt Jones caught something that can be devastating for an NFL running back's job security: A case of fumble-itis.
The third-rounder out of Florida put the ball on the ground five times in his first year in the league, with four resulting in turnovers. That type of illness, if not cured quickly, could cause Jones to fall out of favor in the future with coaches and teammates in a sport where possession is precious.
With that in mind, the 23-year-old admits he has altered the grip he uses when the pigskin is under his arms, and so far, he's encouraged by his progress.
"I feel like I was holding the ball wrong, and it was, like, loose, like how I did in college," Jones said after Wednesday's OTA session in Ashburn. "I hold it in a different kind of way now, it's like nobody can get me. I feel very confident out there.
"I got so much better at it that it's crazy," he added. "I love being out here with the ball each and every day."
For the massive back (when lined up next to teammate Chris Thompson, Jones is a full head taller), developing a close, trusting relationship with the rock is paramount. As the situation stands now, he is the primary guy at the position, meaning he'll be called on a lot in 2016 to churn up yards and make up the balance in what should be a prolific passing offense.
Interestingly enough, it's the leader of that passing offense whom Jones wants to be in the company of — and as much as possible.
"I get around Kirk, because he teaches me how to be a number one," he said. "He's out here each and every day. He's talking more. He's involved in stuff more. I really would like to be around Kirk more than I was last year. I like getting better with him."
Speaking of getting better, Jones has other facets of his game that he wants to pay attention to (one symptom of fumble-itis is that it often masks other things, both positive and negative). Also on that list includes attacking the line of scrimmage in a way that's more advantageous to him — and more harmful to those trying to stop him.
"Something I definitely could work on... I call 'leveling off,'" he said. "Getting downhill faster, not delaying runs and waiting on the cut to happen. Last year, when I was running [sideways], it was kind of easy for them to tackle me, but this year I want to get my shoulders square. I feel comfortable running that way too."
That word — comfortable — could be the word that matters most for Jones in year two: Comfortable being first on the depth chart, comfortable protecting the ball in the middle of a defense and comfortable enough to play all 16 weeks (he missed three contests a year ago).
If he can cross off those items, then the Burgundy and Gold will be equipped with a talented, more experienced threat, and one that they trust more than they did in the past. But if not, then Scot McCloughan and Jay Gruden may feel the pressure to bring in veteran help, and thus relegate him to the similar, lesser role he was featured in as a first-year pro.
To put it simply: The job is in his hands. Will he fumble it away?