Tampa Bay felt like they got just the guy they wanted when they were able to land Ronald Jones in the second round of the 2018 draft and – with hefty draft capital invested in him – he entered the league with high expectations last season. Despite being drafted at just 20-years-old, Jones totaled 3,619 rushing yards on 6.1 yards per carry over his three seasons at USC.
Jones was brought on to be an electric playmaker who’s agility and speed could add explosiveness to the Bucs backfield, but to the contrary, Jones provided little to no impact as he rarely even stepped on the field in 2018. Jones finished last season with just 44 yards on 23 carries(1.9 avg.) a hauling in only seven receptions on nine targets.
With that said, it was no surprise that Jones was a big topic of conversation when the Bucs’ new running backs coach, Todd McNair, took the podium at One Buc Place on Thursday.
“RoJo had 23 carries on the season and on 13 of those he got hit at or behind the line of scrimmage,” McNair said. “So the biggest thing with him is restoring his confidence.”
“I mean a guy coming out of college, USC is high-profile program, he’s a second round draft pick and he’s not having a lot of success, I’ve seen it happen before. His confidence can fade a bit, but for him it’s baby steps and working on our approach and learning how to be a pro. That’s pretty much what we work on, all the little stuff, the day to day. Going to work.”
Confidence is something that many attributed to Jones lack of success as he never truly carved out a role for himself in Tampa’s offense last year. After a similar lack of production in his first preseason, it appeared as though he never earned the trust of Dirk Koetter’s staff, thus eliminating many of his opportunities and never giving him a chance to get his feet wet.
Maturity could have also been an issue, according to McNair. Again, Jones was drafted at just 20-years-old and was forced to grow up quick as he was thrown into the league.
“He’s young and he’s a little immature,” McNair said. “RoJo, to me, and I don’t really know his family background and stuff yet, but it seems like…he didn’t have a strong male figure in his life…so he’s kind of all over the place – but he’s a good kid and he’s working hard, so I’m looking forward to a lot of good things from him.”
McNair went on to address the issues Jones had as a receiver out of the backfield.
“What I noticed with him, I think the biggest thing with him is his hand placement,” McNair said. “He does some funky things with his hands from a catching technique standpoint, he’s got some funny stuff. At some point I had to learn the game to help with hand placement and muscle memory on where to place your hands and stuff.”
McNair has begun working with Jones on different drills to improve his technique and build muscle memory through repetition, but he doesn’t want to put too much emphasis on the issue to let him work through it without it becoming a source of anxiety for young running back.
“He came out in the first week of phase one and we started doing the little hand game and he hasn’t dropped a ball since,” Mcnair said. “So it’s just some mechanical stuff we can work on. Again, it’s confidence. I don’t want to keep him after practice and throw balls, I don’t want his teammates… just leave him alone. Let’s not let it build up anxiety like, ‘the ball’s coming, oh my God.'”
McNair recalled issues he had himself during his playing days in Kansas City, citing that despite being a good pass-catcher in the NFL, even he went through self-described “black holes” where he would tell his quarterback, Steve DeBerg, to not even throw the ball his way in practice. But, to get through those issues, McNair said DeBerg would keep throwing him the ball because it’s just something you have to work through.
McNair has confidence that the Bucs can turn the tides, though, despite coming off of a season where the team ranked 29th in the NFL at just 95.2 rushing yards per game.
“We’ve just got to keep grinding, that’s [Harold Goodwin’s] fault,” McNair joked about the team’s new offensive line coach. “We’ve just got to keep grinding and working at it. We’ve got to find out what they do best, what we do best as an offense. Like I said, 13 out of 23 [carries] hit at or behind the line of scrimmage. There’s not a lot you can do, all of that is not on him. We’ll just work as an offense, understanding with the line and the running backs and stuff and I’m confident we’ll get it going. We’ve got a young group but they’re talented. I like what I see and the guys we’ve got.”