Taiwan Jones’ first time possessing the football this preseason was a doozy. He caught a kickoff four yards deep in the Raiders end zone Thursday against Green Bay, knowing full well he was taking it out.
The kick returner/running back/special teams standout hit top speed quickly, found an opening and surged through it. He met some resistance and took flight, only to be caught and dropped 33 yards into his return.
“I wish I could do that all over again,” Jones said. “I was that close to breaking it.”
The Raiders hope he breaks a few during the regular season. Jones wants the opportunity to do so. There’s a competition returning kicks, though special teams coordinator Brad Seely has said others will have to unseat Jones, the front-running incumbent.
DeAndre Washington and Johnny Holton have had moments this preseason returning kicks – the Raiders could look outside the organization for return options after roster cuts – but Jones believes he’ll end up returning kicks.
“My mindset heading into the season is that it’s my job,” Jones said. “I am the guy in charge of giving the offense good field position. I take that responsibility seriously.”
It’s an important task, one the Raiders have struggled with in recent seasons.
The team used four different returners, many of whom struggled in that role.
Jones was somewhat of an exception. He brought back 31 kickoffs in 2015, averaging 26.7 yards per return, including a 70-yard long. He has had ball security issues in this role, with three fumbles in 2015 and 2013 combined, the last two years he frequently used as a returner.
Protecting the football is imperative, something Jones understands and has worked to improve.
Jones is an aggressive returner, preferring to bring back kickoffs even relatively deep in the end zone. He said that won’t change much with a new rule where touchbacks are brought out to the 25-yard line. He believes kickers will try to prevent that, making it more likely he’ll be on the move.
“I think it’s almost a sure thing that I’m going to take it out now,” Jones said. “Most kickers are going to try and put it on the goal line. If that’s the case, I’m going to get the ball and go.”
Jones could get the ball occasionally on offense as well. Bill Musgrave loves speed and Jones has plenty of it, which could give him some touches this year despite the fact Latavius Murray and DeAndre Washington are expected to be primary backs.
Jones also knows his role centers elsewhere.
“I’m a core special teams guy and that’s been my main focus,” Jones said. “I believe I’ll have a role on offense, but I don’t know exactly what that is. I just have to be ready when my name’s called.”