ALAMEDA – Raiders cornerback Taiwan Jones is a converted running back. He made the switch starting this offseason, but the transition isn’t complete. The switch from offense to defense will take time, especially with decreased practice reps during game week.
Jones has found a way to contribute in the interim. The third-year pro has become a standout special teams player, especially on coverage units. Blazing speed makes Jones an excellent gunner, who is adept at reaching returners in sync with Marquette King’s punt. He generally makes a tackle or slows a return down so others can.
He’s been so good that it prompted head coach Dennis Allen to make a bold proclamation.
“If he’s not the best special teams player in the league, he’s one of the best special teams players in the league,” Allen said. “He’s a difference maker in all of our coverage units.”
Jones has thrived in that role because he’s committed to it. He enjoys the responsibility of beating someone one-on-one and giving the defense a long field to work with.
He also knows that special teams is his niche, and it makes him feel a valued part of this year’s team.
“It has helped to have a role while I’m developing as a corner,” Jones said. “I’m working on that craft, but I’m glad I have some way to contribute to this season’s team. The goal is to make a difference wherever I can. Right now, that’s on special teams.”
Jones believes he can be a starting corner in time. He has the speed, agility – the kid jumped a car in jeans, for goodness sake -- and quick reaction time to excel in the secondary. He wasn’t fit to be a running back because of a slight frame and ball security issues, which also makes him an ill fit returning punts.
Without his coverage skill, Jones would’ve had a tough time finding a role with the Raiders. The kicking game, however, has given him a real jolt of confidence that grows with Allen’s kind words.
“To hear that from a head coach really means something because we’re working hard every day,” Jones said. “Special teams don’t really get the glory that other units get, so it’s great to here it recognized. It really means a lot.”
Jones has so much speed in fact that the Raiders are trying to sync King’s hang time and distance in such a way that Jones will already be there to down it. Few, if any, are capable of such a feat.
“We might be biased, but I don’t think there’s a better coverage man out there,” special teams coach Bobby April said. “He’s playing lights out. His coverage is fantastic.”