ASHBURN, Va. -- The play unfolded like one earlier this season: Washington Redskins running back Matt Jones hurdling a player on the ground, trying to get extra yardage. For the second time this season, it resulted in a Redskins turnover.
And now, 10 games into his rookie season, Jones has a big issue with ball security. He’s now fumbled four times in 114 touches. If he ever wants to supplant Alfred Morris as the Redskins’ top running back, then he must hold onto the ball.
Jones wasn’t the only one with this issue in Sunday’s 44-16 loss to Carolina. Running back Chris Thompson and tight end Jordan Reed fumbled on consecutive plays when they carried the ball too far away from their body in the open field. Defensive players are taught to poke or swipe at the ball anyway; when it’s loose, their job becomes easier.
“It’s just a matter of him continuing to focus more on the ball pre-contact, also when there is contact,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said.
Jones offers the Redskins a big back at 6-foot-2, 231 pounds who has good speed for that size (4.61 seconds in the 40-yard dash). That’s why they selected him in the third round. But he must solve the fumbling problems. At Florida, he fumbled five times and lost three in 26 games, but it worked out to an average of one fumble every 63.2 times he touched the ball, according to NFLDraftscout.com (that was the sixth worst ratio among running backs entering last spring’s draft).
It’s not as if the Redskins don’t work on ball security drills. They do so every day during individual work. But in games, they’re going full speed and hurdling bodies, leading to different circumstances. And because Jones has lost four fumbles, teams will be on high alert anytime he has the ball.
“He’s got to understand as a running back in the National Football League, once you have this M.O. [modus operandi], the only way to shake it is to protect the ball,” Gruden said.” If you don’t protect the ball, then you won’t be a running back in the NFL for very long. We have total faith in him that he’s going to fix this but he has to himself make sure he understands the importance of the ball. All running backs do.”
Sunday, Jones did not return the following series after the fumble. But he did re-enter the game later.
“He wants every play to be a touchdown,” Gruden said. “You love that competitive fire about him. … We are not going to give up on Matt, but he has to understand the importance of that ball.”