Running back Ronald Jones II had videos of his workouts bounce around social media all summer as he added weight, worked on pass-catching drills and sprinted up mountains as part of his everyday workouts. He sees big changes to his game coming this season and wouldn’t be surprised if that results in him being considered one of the top running backs in the game.
In a virtual press conference on Monday, Jones discussed all of his offseason preparation, what it’s been like to return to the AdventHealth Training Center amid a pandemic and what the presence of Tom Brady and LeSean McCoy has been like as workouts begin.
“He’s been contributing, giving tips and pointers and things since he got here,” Jones said about McCoy. “We know his resume, we know what he’s done for this league and at the running back position alone, so just learning from him day in and day out. It’s been great having him in there and being able to learn from him too.”
RB LeSean McCoy – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Jones also spoke about the Bucs’ other new running back addition this season, rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn.
“I was like welcome to the team because I knew my old friend was gone, he signed with another team,” Jones said, “It’s good to have [Vaughn,] he’s an explosive guy, a fast kid and just learning each and every day. I’ll be able to help him and [McCoy] can help both of us. So it’s a good environment and we’re all competing to be that guy so it’ll be good for us.”
But in addition to the new running backs in his positional meetings, Brady’s 20 years of NFL experience, along with his penchant for targeting running backs, has motivated and helped Jones grow as a pass-catching back as well.
“He always tells me, get low in my routes and run my routes like I already have the ball,” Jones said. “A lot of times I would try to get a feel for the defense, whether it’s zone or man, but I’m working on getting that pre-snap read in and then exploding through my routes and just finishing. So that’s what we’ve been working on now just in shorts and stuff. It’s been fun.”
From a technical standpoint, Jones has never been a natural pass-catcher. With just 32 receptions over his three seasons at USC and deferring third-down duties to Dare Ogunbowale last season, it’s been a challenge for Jones to improve that part of his game.
Jones spoke on what he’s specifically done this offseason to become better in all phases of his game, now two years removed from first stepping into the Bucs’ practice facility as a 21-year-old rookie.
Bucs RB Ronald Jones – Photo by: Getty Images
“I think just in terms of doing what the defense is doing, not just out there running full speed,” Jones said. “In zone you have to sit down and find that soft spot, in man you know actually beating your man and who’s covering you so that’s another thing that definitely has helped in the beginning, working in the offseason with completely different quarterbacks. I can catch any kind of ball from high school to pee-wee to obviously playing with the best in the game, it’s definitely gotten me ready for this moment.”
“A lot of times [coaches] said I wouldn’t absorb the ball, I was letting the ball hit my body and things like that. Just working with this summer with coach [Luke] Neal and things like that, just extension on the hands, finding that diamond, being able to control the ball. Those are some of the things I focused on this summer and just tried to elevate my game each and every day.”
Jones said that being better in the passing game is exciting because it only means more touches, hoping to double his receiving production from last season, and added that he’s put on an extra seven pounds of muscle to handle being “the guy” in Tampa Bay’s backfield.
“I just have to keep putting the work in and keep getting better,” Jones said. “I put on seven or eight more pounds of muscle. I went from 218 to 225 and now I feel like I’m ready for the workload and things like that so I most definitely see 1,000 yards in my near future and for years to come.”
In the facility a lot has changed as the Bucs and the rest of the league prepares for a season where COVID-19 still poses threat, now that they’re actually able to get together and practice as a team. One of the proposed changes include players wearing visors with built-in facemasks along with their helmets.
Bucs RB Ronald Jones II – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Jones said that the team used the new facemasks during their workouts on Monday and players were skeptical.
“The players weren’t too fond of that,” Jones said. “We tried them out on Monday and a couple guys kept seeing reflector tape or something like that. It wasn’t too tough for me.”
But Jones believes that while it wasn’t too much of a burden for him individually, it may be a problem for players around the league.
“I think it will be [a problem] because most of the guys said that they couldn’t really breath if they had the visor on,” Jones said. “But they said that if you didn’t have the visor on then it wouldn’t really work so they have to find a balance I guess. But yeah, I’d obviously want it off and just go regular visor because there’s still some type of holes in there so air is getting through in and out every play, so it’ll be interesting to see.”