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SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.
FAB 1. Can Arians Fix RoJo’s Mojo?
New Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians is known around the league as “The Quarterback Whisper” after helping develop the likes of Indianapolis quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck as rookies, in addition to winning two Super Bowl rings with Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger and making the playoffs with Carson Palmer in Arizona.
Arians’ autobiography is also titled “The Quarterback Whisperer,” and Bucs general manager Jason Licht hopes he can take Jameis Winston to the next level.
Licht is probably hoping Arians can be “The Running Back Whisperer,” too, and salvage the career of Ronald Jones II, the first of three Tampa Bay second-round picks from a year ago.
The Big Takeaway
Jones, who is known by his “RoJo” nickname, had a disastrous rookie season with just 44 yards and one touchdown on 23 carries (1.9 avg.) in limited duty. If there is one Buccaneer that needs to find his mojo it’s Rojo – and Arians and new running backs coach Todd McNair will be tasked with that responsibility in 2019.
Stats That Count
Drafted to bring speed and playmaking ability to the Bucs, Jones’ longest run was a 9-yard carry against Cleveland. Jones struggled catching the ball out of the backfield, which was something he wasn’t asked to do often at USC. In three years with the Trojans, Jones totaled 32 catches for 302 yards and three touchdowns with 14 receptions for 187 yards and one TD coming during his junior year at USC.
Jones had just seven catches for 33 yards during his rookie season in Tampa Bay, including a long of 15 yards, which came against the Browns. Jones had two dropped passes on just nine targets last year, and the problem with his hands – and finding any running room – first surfaced during the offseason in training camp.
Despite logging 28 carries in the preseason, Jones rushed for just 22 yards (0.8 avg.), which ranked fifth on the team behind Peyton Barber (87 yards on 15 carries 5.8 avg.), undrafted free agent rookie Wilson (71 yards on 15 carries, 4.7 avg.), Dare Ogunbowale (55 yards on 21 carries, 2.6 avg.) and wide receiver Bobo Wilson (33 yards on two carries, 16.5 avg.).
Due to his poor preseason, Jones was inactive to start the year and didn’t make his NFL debut until Week 4 at Chicago where he carried the ball 10 times for 29 yards (2.9 avg.) in garbage time as the Bucs fell behind 38-3 by halftime in a 48-10 loss. Jones also had one catch for minus-1 yard against the Bears.
After the Bucs’ bye week, Jones had one carry for three yards in a 34-29 loss at Atlanta, and caught a career-high three passes for 16 yards. The next week in a 26-23 overtime win against Cleveland, Jones had six carries for 13 yards (2.2 avg.) and scored his first and only rushing touchdown, while catching one pass for 15 yards, which was his career-long.
Jones only carried the ball in two other games – at Cincinnati and against Carolina a month later – totaling six carries for minus-1 yard with two catches for zero yards, as the former Trojans star was mostly relegated to special teams coverage units.
Quotes That Matter
To say that Jones is excited about Arians and a new coaching staff taking over is an understatement after a rookie season that was filled with trials and tribulations.
“I think he’s a great fit for what we have down here in Tampa,” Jones said. “The running game – I know he’s big on that. He’s got Coach Todd [Bowles] with the defense, so I’m excited to get this offseason going into OTAs and see what they have in store for us.
“David Johnson took flight in his second year there in Arizona – maybe even his rookie year. He put up huge numbers, so that’s exciting. The fact that [Arians] has all this experience and all this respect around the league makes me happy to work with him.”
Jones has already met with McNair, who coached USC running backs from 2004-09, including Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush and LenDale White, and he’s thrilled to work with him.
“I got to meet the running backs coach the other day, Coach McNair, he was telling me how Reggie Bush was at USC, and he told me about his playing experience at Temple,” Jones said. “It’s good and I’m eager to work with him because he coached one of my favorite players of all time in Reggie.
“He said he watched all my tape from college and my rookie year, which wasn’t all that great. He said there are a lot of things I can do to improve my game and he said he’s going to show me. He can’t show me right now, but when the time comes I’ll be ready.”
One of the areas Jones is going to work on prior to April 1, which is the beginning of the Bucs’ offseason program, is gaining some size to help break his tackle-breaking ability.
“Last year I was about 205 pounds,” Jones said. “I want to come back a solid 212 – just for the body blows and things like that. The added muscle would do a lot of good for me. I want to keep my speed, obviously, because that is what a lot of my game is predicated around. Whatever my strength coach and nutritionist have set for me I’ll go with the flow, but if I feel like I’m getting too heavy and it’s making me slow I’ll knock some weight off.”
Jones said he also plans to use the coming months to improve his ability to catch the ball.
“I would definitely say running routes, and then just developing my body overall so I can be an every down back and things like that,” Jones said. “Routes are an area where I really have to work, just catching the ball, just being a full-time player. I feel like I can run the ball, hit the holes and stuff and create, but in the passing game I want to be able to do it all better.”
One of the ways to fast track Jones’ develop this offseason is Arians’ plan to hold two practices simultaneously for veterans and younger players in order to accelerate their development during the OTA period.
“That’s very intriguing,” Jones said. “I’ve never heard of that in the NFL, but obviously he knows what he’s doing. He’s right to a certain extent because a lot of young guys like me don’t get those reps. I think it will be good for us. We’ll see how it goes. I’m excited.”
The FABulous Ending
Licht would be foolish to automatically think that Jones will turn into a capable NFL running back – much less a 1,000-yard rusher – overnight just because Arians and McNair have arrived in Tampa Bay. The Bucs should look to free agency and or the NFL Draft to find another runner to pair with Barber, and if Jones does develop in 2019 then it’s an added bonus. But the Bucs’ brass would be wise to operate under the assumption that it won’t happen because there was no evidence in 2018 to suggest it would.
I’m rooting for RoJo. I got a chance to get to know him a little bit during PewterReport.com Bucs Training Camp Diary series last year, and I saw firsthand how his confidence was rocked due to getting hit in the backfield over and over again because of poor blocking from the offensive line. For Jones’ sake, I hope that Arians and McNair can help take his game to the next level quickly because he won’t be a lock to make the 53-man roster if he has another disastrous preseason.
“They’ve watched my film and know my game,” Jones said. “They know my strengths and weaknesses. “I believe they are going to find ways to get me the ball. I’m interested to see what they have drawn up for me. I feel like I need to take a big leap forward this next season. I’ve got to take off.”
Indeed he does.