Watching football players run practice drills without pads is a little like hitting golf balls on a simulator. Sure, it looks pretty similar, but simulation is far from the real thing. Redskins rookie running back Matt Jones is a player that does not do well with simulation.
"Being a runner like I am, I love to lower my shoulder," Jones said after a minicamp session. "Out here you can't really have contact like that, I got to ease up a little bit and back off a little like coach told me one practice."
Yep, that's correct, Washington coach Jay Gruden was forced to tell his rookie runner to take it down a notch.
"When he runs with his pads down, he’s banging into everybody and it’s against the CBA rules – there’s no contact," Gruden explained.
Good news is coming for Jones, however, as OTAs and minicamp are over, with training camp the next step. Training camp means full contact, and Jones can finally play his full game.
"He’s been very impressive to us. His running style is unique," Gruden said. "It’s a physical style, but he does have good change of direction – he’s shown that out in space – and good hands."
Impressive rookies emerge every summer, but the grind of training camp and the season then tend to make those lofty first impressions more realistic. Opportunity exists for Jones as the backup to starter Alfred Morris, and the rookie has been seen getting reps with the first team offense from time to time.
"I'm getting some reps with the the ones, falling into the flow with Alfred," Jones said. "It's been great, I'm getting a great taste of it, the speed."
Morris has reeled off three straight 1,000 yard seasons, firmly cemented as the primary runner. That doesn't mean his game lacks holes, especially as a pass catcher and in pass protection. If Jones can show strong in those areas, his chances at playing time will grow.
"My goal is just to contribute to this team the best I can. I definitely want to put up some great stats for my rookie year," Jones said. "There's definitely spots open for me to get, I just got to go get them."
Gruden likes running backs that provide a good threat to catch balls out of the backfield, he showed that last season in Washington with Roy Helu and previously as offensive coordinator in Cincinnati. Helu now plays for the Oakland Raiders, and somebody will need to replace his production in the pass game. Last season, Helu caught 42 balls for nearly 500 yards and two touchdowns.
"We drafted him for a reason," Gruden said of Jones. "He’s a big, physical back and he will take some pressure off of Alfred a little bit."
Jones' size get mentioned a lot. Working out with the running backs, he stands out as a player that looks out of place. Morris is 5'10", so is second year man Silas Redd. Third year runner Chris Thompson is 5'7". Jones goes 6'2", and weighs 230 lbs. A workhorse, Morris is more than capable of getting tough yards, but it's also obvious that Washington GM Scot McCloughan wants a bigger team, and Jones fits that bill.
Redd and Thompson do not plan to just cede the No. 2 RB job to Jones, though in practice it seems that the rookie's role is obvious. For Jones, the fun starts soon, about a month away.
"I'm ready to be myself and put it out on the line," Jones said. "Im looking forward to Richmond and the season."