There are so many issues in sports that affect athletes and can only be overcome by being in a good place mentally. But when it comes to fumbling — something that can doom an NFL running back's career — Tiki Barber says the fix comes more from the physical side than the thinking side.
And, as someone who was once plagued by putting the ball on the ground but eventually improved in that aspect of the job, his insight into the topic is very relevant for someone like Redskins running back Matt Jones.
"It sounds harder than it actually is, because it's all mechanical," Barber told the Sports Junkies on CSN Wednesday morning. "It's not an awareness thing."
Upon remembering Barber's post-fumbleitis running style and hearing him discuss it, Eric Bickel poked fun at the three-time Pro Bowler by calling it extreme. The ex-Giant didn't take offense to that, either — because that style is what took him to the next level.
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"It was extreme, but it actually helped me become a more effective runner," he said. "Just put it higher, and kept my elbow down. But more importantly, when you go into contact, you cover it up."
"Now, the traditional way to cover up a football is to put the ball perpendicular to the ground," Barber continued, before explaining why that's not the best method to use. "It's across the ground, it's across your body, but there's nothing supporting the ball underneath. The actual way to do it is to put the ball vertical to the ground, wrap your off-ball hand across your on-ball hand, and go to the ground with basically an 'x' across your chest as opposed to two parallel boards across your chest. It was a very simple fix and a mechanical one that just took some drilling in."
Barber did sound optimistic about Jones' future, and said when he first saw the 2015 third-rounder play, he predicted he was going to be "a stud." However, Barber noted that when he kept fumbling in New York, there was no better backfield option so he was allowed to work through it, while Jones was benched in favor of Robert Kelley and Chris Thompson.
Of course, there's no denying Jones' talent, because it's there and he's shown it plenty. In fact, he may even have more of it than Kelley and Thompson. But a head coach will almost always choose a running back who demonstrates more ball security over one who doesn't, which is why there's so much uncertainty for No. 31 heading into the offseason.
The offseason, though, is the period of time on an NFL schedule where new skills can be added and flaws can be addressed. According to Barber, all Jones needs to do is make one simple switch, then ensure that switch becomes second nature.
If he can, perhaps his stint as a second thought in Washington will be put to an end.
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