Matt Jones slipped past the defensive line, striding smoothly for a long gain. The next snap saw him taking a short pass down the field.
“I’m here to work,” he said. “I’m showing up every day competing with the guys and working with the guys.”
The Washington Redskins running back appeared sharp during Tuesday’s minicamp. It didn’t look like his first offseason appearance after skipping voluntary workouts. He spent time in Tampa working with former Redskins running back and assistant coach Earnest Byner while plotting a new course with his agent.
Who knows where Jones’ future will be, but it’s probably not in Washington. He went from third-rounder and prominent role player in 2015 to opening starter in 2016, to unwanted in 2017.
Translation: his stock dropped like a rock. Make that a boulder.
Jones’ downfall isn’t completely unusual in the NFL. Running backs average only three years, but Jones disappeared after seven games last season when his third fumble enraged coach Jay Gruden. The runner spent the rest of the season inactive. With no special teams role, Jones went from starter to persona non grata.
Gruden is direct with players and media. He has declared Rob Kelley, a virtual unknown last spring, as his starter this fall with Chris Thompson remaining the third down back. Fourth-rounder Samaje Perine may push Kelley for a prime role while Mack Brown looks like the fourth back.
Jones can read a depth chart and didn’t want to waste time with a team planning to release him by September. But, minicamp is mandatory so skipping it would have brought a fine. And, it wouldn’t increase his leverage with the team given the Redskins aren’t particularly interested in keeping him. Indeed, it would only be a bad look to other teams interested in Jones once he’s free.
“It’s football. It’s life,” said Jones of being in limbo. “You’ve got to deal with it.”
The Redskins shouldn’t be in any hurry to release Jones, though. That it would help the running back find work elsewhere is of no interest to Washington.
For now, Jones remains for depth reasons. After all, injuries happen and Jones could regain his spot. Shar Pourdanesh entered 1997 training camp as the fourth guard and probable cut before three others were hurt. Suddenly, Pourdanesh was the opening-day starter and started 14 games that season and 15 in 1998 before being traded to Pittsburgh in 1999.
Things happen and the Redskins are keeping Jones as an extra experienced prime back.
It’s just that Gruden has lost confidence in Jones because of the latter’s fumbles. Seven turnovers in 243 carries over two seasons offsets a respectable 3.9 yards-per-carry average. Indeed, Jones averaged 4.6 yards last season on 99 carries before he was benched.
Still, maybe a change of scenery will benefit Jones, who says, “I’m very confident in my game.” After all, he wouldn’t be the first fumble-prone player to stop when his career was threatened.
For now, Jones is being a professional, working hard during a 93-degree practice even if unwanted. There will be another day, another team and being a professional will lead to a second chance.
Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter @Snide_Remarks.