In the second quarter of the Redskins’ preseason game against the Lions rookie running back Matt Jones had the kind of run the team hopes to see from the rookie on a regular basis.
On first down from the Washington 20, he took a handoff from Colt McCoy and headed up the middle. In the hole he planted, made a slight change of direction and quickly rolled into the second level. About 12 yards downfield a defensive back flew in to try to make the tackle but Jones made a move and dodged him. He kept heading north until he was brought down after a gain of 24 yards.
Jones finished the game leading the team in rushing with 52 yards on 10 carries. He blasted his way into the end zone from a yard out. His head coach was impressed.
“Matt Jones continues to hit the hole the way we want him to—hard,” Jay Gruden said after the game. “He gets through the second level, he’s a problem.”
At 6-2, 231 Jones can be a big problem. He is doing what Scot McCloughan hoped he would do when he drafted Jones out of Florida in the third round. There were plenty of skeptics among draft analysts when they turned in the card with his name on it as the 95th overall pick last May. The instant conventional wisdom was that the third round was way too high to take Jones, who wasn’t even the Gators’ full-time running back. After Thursday, many of them are singing a different tune.
While Jones has looked good throughout training camp and the preseason (he leads the Redskins with 82 yards on 13 carries) it is too early to know if he is a hit or a bust or something in between. His workload once the regular season starts is uncertain. It is clear that Alfred Morris remains the No. 1 back.
“Right now I would say more of a relief back,” said Gruden when asked about what Jones’ role will be. “Take some load off of Alfred late in the game or the second quarter here and there, spell him from time-to-time. Alfred is doing so good and has been in such good shape, it is hard to take him out of the game on first or second down. I think it’s going to be important for Matt to earn his reps. He’s got to go out these last three preseason games and A) stay healthy and B) show the stamina that he has, the ball security that we can trust him in a game on Sunday afternoons. If he earns the reps, he will get his fair share of carries.”
Last year, working a dual role as Morris’ relief and the third-down back, Roy Helu had just 40 carries. But the Redskins plan to run the ball more this year and hope that a revamped defense can keep them in a position to do so. That could lead to more carries for Jones, assuming he keeps up what he has been doing since he took the field for the Redskins.