In less than a year, the Redskins completed a stunning turnaround, ascending from a laughingstock in 2014 to a division champion in 2015. But now comes the difficult part: taking that all-important next step and improving from a franchise that was fortunate to get into the playoffs to one that can do some damage once it gets there. And that work begins right now for Jay Gruden, Scot McCloughan and the players.
In the coming weeks, Redskins reporters Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will examine the 25 biggest questions facing the Redskins as another offseason gets rolling.
Is Matt Jones ready to assume the Redskins' No. 1 running back job?
Tandler: Last year rookie running back Matt Jones played like, well, a rookie. He had some moments like a 78-yard touchdown rumble with a screen pass against the Saints where he looked like he could be a very valuable player if not a star. At other times, like when he didn’t protect the ball and fumbled into the end zone against the Giants, he looked like a player who needed a lot of work.
It added up to Jones gaining 490 on 144 carries and three touchdowns on the ground and another 304 yards on 19 pass receptions. He fumbled four times and lost all of them and he missed one game with a knee injury and the last two regular season games and the playoff game with a hip pointer.
With Alfred Morris likely to depart as a free agent the role of “lead dog” running back will be vacant. The Redskins will need to look at Jones’ mixed bag and figure out if he can take the next step in 2016.
It’s going to come down to how much faith they have in Jones’ desire to do the little things that a professional has to do to stay on the field and refine his craft. He took a step in the right direction later in the season when he started coming in to Redskins Park on off days to physically recover from the pounding on game days.
But it takes more than that. He had 38 runs that went for either no gain or a loss of yardage last year. Blocking was the problem on many of those runs but at other times it was a matter of Jones not reading the play correctly. Getting that down requires a lot of work, both on and off of the field. He has the size and speed to be a very good No. 1 back if he puts in the time.
El-Bashir: Matt Jones showed off his immense talent as a rookie, but it came in fits and starts. In fact, I’m not sure anyone on the Redskins’ roster was as inconsistent from week to week as Jones. But that’s often the life of an NFL rookie, and I suspect the Florida product will be a more consistent player in 2016 as the game slows down for him.
But I’ve got a couple of concerns as it relates to today’s question: Jones’ fumbles and his health.
Let’s start with the fumbles. As I pointed out in my rookie review last month, Jones put the ball on the ground five times and ended up losing it four times. (Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin was the only running back to lose more fumbles with five.) Jones’ ball security, though, did improve in the second half of the season. In fact, he lost only one fumble in his final six games after losing three in his first seven.
Jones’ ability to stay healthy was a problem, too. He missed three regular season games and the playoff game with toe and hip injuries. As I’ve said before, blaming injuries on a player isn’t fair. But the NFL isn't fair, either. In this game, availability is almost as important as ability. And Jones was unavailable too often last season. He did tell me on locker clear out day that he learned late in the year about the importance of spending time in the training room, even when you’re not suffering from a specific injury.
It seems Jones recognizes his flaws and is taking steps toward correcting them. But is that enough to hand him the keys to one of the game’s most important positions? I suspect this is one of the tougher decisions facing GM Scot McCloughan this offseason.
If it were my call, I’d give Jones the opportunity to be the No. 1. But I’d also have a solid backup plan in place—just case it doesn’t work out.
25 Questions series
- Is McCoy the answer at backup QB for the Redskins?
- Should the Redskins try to keep Alfred Morris?
- Should the Redskins cut Andre Roberts?
- Will there be a surprise cap casualty?
- Will DeAngelo Hall return?
- Should the Redskins draft a quarterback?
- Are the Redskins set at outside linebacker?
- Should the Redskins make changes on the offensive line?
- Should Pierre Garçon return?
- What should the Redskins do at tight end?
- Today: Is Matt Jones ready to assume the Redskins' No. 1 running back job?
- Tomorrow: Will Kirk Cousins improve in 2016?