Rookie running back Matt Jones had a hot start to the season, with 151 yard rushing in his first two games including a 39-yard run in Week 2 in which he displayed an impressive blend of speed and power.
But he hit his rookie wall early. Since those first two games he has averaged 30.8 yards rushing per game and has no more than 62 yards rushing in any one game.
It’s not like he has totally disappeared from the offense. He had a big game against the Saints, going 78 yards with a screen pass for a touchdown and caught two more passes for 29 and 24 yards. Against the Giants he rolled 45 yards with a screen pass to set up second-quarter touchdown.
But steadiness and consistency have eluded the rookie. Jay Gruden believes it’s a matter of concentration.
“Yeah, he’s got to hone in there, be more focused – the false start penalty and he almost missed a big blitz pickup that luckily Kirk got away to [Jamison] Crowder in the flat,” said Gruden. “He’s working hard. He’s a rookie, he’s going to make some mistakes. We have to limit those mistakes.”
To his credit, Jones has made progress in one area. In the first 10 games, he fumbled the ball four times and the opponents recovered all four of them. He has not fumbled in the last four games.
But Gruden went on, perhaps sending a message to Jones that there are alternatives on the roster if he can't clean up his game.
“Luckily for us we have three, four good backs now that are all playing pretty well. Chris Thompson could be healthy next week and obviously Pierre [Thomas] is learning and learning. Obviously Alfred [Morris] had a big game yesterday. I think for being a rookie I think he’s been a pretty good football player – smart, too. His mistakes haven’t been that often. He’s had a few, as everybody has, but I think he’s done OK."
With Morris likely to leave as a free agent after the season is over there could be a big opportunity for Jones. But he needs to reduce the errors his game if they are going to trust him with a major role.