NAPA – Taiwan Jones has taken a ton of reps at running back during this Raiders training camp. The fifth year veteran was drafted as a running back, converted to cornerback in 2013 and brought back to offense by new head coach Jack Del Rio this offseason.
It turns out that coordinator Bill Musgrave has plans for Jones’ blazing speed. The man armed with a 4.33-second 40-yard dash has shown shiftiness and an ability to slash through the line as a rusher, but Jones might be asked to do a little more on offense.
“Well he’s got speed to burn, and he’s done a nice job learning our system,” Musgrave said. “I feel like he has very few mental errors and it’s hard to replicate speed like that. It’s hard to simulate that in practice. So, when he gets in the game he can definitely have an advantage against some defenders.”
Musgrave likes finding mismatches that pure speed can create. He did some inventive things with Percy Harvin as coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings. In 2011, Harvin had 967 receiving yards and 345 rushing yards as an all-around weapon.
No one expects that production from Jones in the Raiders offense. He won’t touch the ball often enough to do so, but he’s a big-play threat at the team’s disposal. He’s one more weapon teams must account for each week.
Jones secured a roster spot through his position switches as a standout on special teams. That’s still where he’ll make a steady impact. Moving him back to offense allows the Raiders to add a wrinkle to their attack.
“It was a no brainer, especially with the way Musgrave was going to play and do some things with him,” general manager Reggie McKenzie said. “We have a lot of young guys at corner. The thing about Taiwan is that, in my mind, he’s a Pro Bowl special teams player. Finding a spot for him to make plays outside of that is going to be best for the offense.”
Jones was hesitant to switch positions again, but has come around since. He’s excited to earn an offensive role, something he hasn’t really established in his career.
Ball security has been a big reason why. He’s fumbled three times in regular-season games with limited touches, and must prove he can hold on to the football to have any kind of an opportunity to be an offensive player.
If Jones settles that issue, he can be an asset. That was evident last week in practice, when he split out wide as a receiver, torched his defender and easily hauled in a deep volley from quarterback Matt McGloin.
“All you have to do is throw it up and I’m going to go get it,” Jones said. “(Musgrave) knows I’m a guy who has gone from offense to defense and back again. I play a lot of special teams. I think Bill has an idea that I can do a lot of good things for him. He’s so creative, and whatever he has planned for me is going to be exciting.”
Jones believes he’s well prepared for that opportunity. He missed 15 games last season with a foot injury, but returned fully healthy with extra pounds of muscle. Jones is roughly 200 pounds, much stronger without losing speed.
“Last year was one of the worst things I’ve had to experience in football,” Jones said. “To sit down and watch my team fight and struggle without me was extremely difficult. It was a long year. As soon as I was able, I started rehabbing and training. I was able to put on some weight – I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been but it’s a good weight. It was a lot of hard work, but it’s paying off now.”