There’s no question that Bucs’ running back Ronald Jones II is off to the best season of his young career.
At 730 rushing yards, Jones ranks third in the NFL for that category on the season. He’s also seen four games where he’s reached the century mark on the ground, including a 192-yard, one-touchdown game last week against Carolina. Jones’ career day was highlighted by an electrifying 98-yard touchdown run in the second half. No one has seen the evolution of the Bucs third-year back better than his running back coach, Todd McNair.
“The credit goes to him,” McNair said. “He’s really matured in these two years since last year when we (the coaching staff) first came in. He’s shown a lot of maturity, a lot of growth. People forget how young he was. Even coming in last year, he hadn’t really played the year before, so he was like a rookie. A year in the system, I think the offensive coaches sticking with him, getting him a lot of positive reinforcement, I think he’s just blossomed. His ceiling’s still high, he’s got a long way to go still.”
Even in what’s been considered his best football season, the best is yet to come, whether Jones himself knows it or not.
“He’s running really hard and really fast,” McNair said. “He’s got a tremendous amount of ability and it’s coming out. I don’t even think Ro understands how good he could be. He does stuff by accident and you’re like ‘woah’. He probably can’t tell you what he did by the time he came back to the sidelines, but he has a tremendous amount of ability in his body. He’s so unassuming of a person, I think all that stuff is starting to click with the age and maturity. You’re starting to see what he can truly become.”
While Jones continues to improve as a runner, not everything has been a positive. He’s seen his snap count drop in a number of games this season due to his struggles with ball security and pass-catching out of the backfield.
Jones has dropped four passes this year, and probably could have been held accountable for a few more. The two fumbles he has on the season came early in games after making a catch at the Giants and last week against Carolina.
“He has his ups and downs with his hand placement,” McNair said. “It’s totally hand placement and not expecting the ball to come to you. Every time he runs a play, and you know it’s a play to somebody else and you know the play is on the other side of the field, but circumstances happen and the defense adjusts that way and here comes the football. You got to know, you got to think that it’s coming to me every time. That’s as far as a mechanical aspect of that and that’s something we still work on. He’s such a conscientious kid that he can get in his own head sometimes and start to struggle at times. That’s why you see the ups and downs with that.”
McNair expressed how much Jones cares about the game and not wanting to let his teammates down. He was benched for a bit following the fumble in the Giants game, but Bruce Arians decided to stick with him after his fumble last week, a decision that led to the best game of Jones career. Evidently, it helped Jones’ psyche.
“It’s huge,” McNair said. “Every time a guy makes a mistake, you can’t yank him out. It’s huge for him, especially a guy as conscientious as Ro is. He don’t want to let his team down, he cares what people think about him, he cares about his impact, positive or negative on the game. It was big, we have to let him know that we totally trust him, we’re totally behind him and got his back and everything.
“It was huge for him to go back and then have the type of game that he had because the Giants game just a little while ago, he had a similar play early when he fumbled and he was really down on himself after that one, but he went back and fought through it and had the best game of his career by far. I think that’s huge in his development going forward.”