The Redskins knew that they were getting a big, banging running back when they drafted Matt Jones in the third round earlier this month. But they may be getting more than they thought they were.
“The thing about Matt is you think of him as a big power-type back, but really Matt has done some things out in space that have been very, very impressive – making moves on the second level, getting to the second level,” coach Jay Gruden said after the team’s morning rookie camp practice. “In the passing game, running some option routes on linebackers. He has done some good things. He has got natural hands, so we’ve been very impressed.”
Jones’ pass catching ability remains a question mark despite those natural hands. He only caught 19 passes in three seasons at Florida. That doesn’t mean that he can’t do it but his ability as a receiver against top-level competition has yet to be demonstrated.
“I didn’t really catch the ball at Florida a lot,” said Jones. “They always knew I could catch the ball but we just didn’t do it a lot at Florida.”
Jones was not just disappointed that he didn’t catch more passes for the Gators. He wanted to do more of everything in college.
“I’ve got a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “My college career wasn’t what I wanted it to be. I really want to have a successful career in the NFL so that’s why I’m going even harder because I didn’t have the college career I wanted.”
His rushing stat line over three years was 297 carries for 1,431 yards (4.9/carry) and 11 touchdowns. That’s a light single season for a workhorse running back. Some analysts have called the Florida offense “a mess” under head coach Will Muschamp and offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. The Gators ranked 96th in the nation in total offense and 43rd in rushing. Both the head coach and the coordinator were fired.
“I think it was because of the offense I was in,” Jones said when asked why he was disappointed in his college career.
He believes he’s in a system that’s a better fit now. “I love this offense, I feel like I’m more downhill. I just feel like I can do what I want to.”
One of the storylines that will be followed closely all season is how much Jones plays and how many snaps and carries he might take away from starting running back Alfred Morris. After all, a team doesn’t spend a third-round pick on a running back unless they have a substantial role in mind for him.
Gruden cautioned that we have a long way to go before Jones supplants Morris in any meaningful way.
“We’ll see,” Gruden said when asked about Jones sharing the load with Morris. “That’s what training camp is for and the preseason games, and Alfred is a darn good halfback, so in order to take carries off of him, you’ve got to show a lot. So far, Matt has taken the right steps to take a little bit of the load off of Alfred. But like I said before, Alfred is our feature back, obviously, but in the NFL nowadays it’s important to have two, three guys that can carry the ball. If you want to commit to running the football, you’ve got to have a couple guys that can tote it, so Matt will just add to the number.”