By Brian McNally

INDIANAPOLIS — The Redskins believe running back Matt Jones can be their No. 1 option next season if unrestricted free agent Alfred Morris doesn’t return to the team. But he has to improve in two key areas to make that happen.

“He’s a young guy that’s got a lot of talent that has really good ball skills, but he’s got to stay healthy and hold onto the ball,” general manager Scot McCloughan said. “I feel really comfortable about him going into the season fighting for the one job for sure.”

Who that will be with is the question. Morris is likely to depart so the Redskins either have to draft another running back or sign a veteran. McCloughan expressed no preference. Jones had surgery on his groin/hip after the season, but is expected to fully recover by the time offseason work begins.

“We drafted him with that intent,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “He’s a big, physical runner. Obviously we have Alfred as a free agent, Chris Thompson, Pierre Thomas as a free agent. Silas Redd is suspended for four games. Other guys we’re looking at on our roster. We need someone to step up.”

Jones had 144 carries as the primary backup behind Morris last season. He was drafted in the third round, No. 95 overall, and made an immediate impact. He also had 19 receptions for 304 yards and a touchdown. But he also fumbled five times, losing four of them, and missed three games, including the NFC East-clinching win over Philadelphia. And Jones’ yards-per-carry were just 3.4. Morris’ numbers may have declined three years in a row, but Jones wasn’t ready to take the job from him as a rookie. Washington believes he can take a step forward as a second-year pro.

“He’s a big, powerful runner. The big thing about Matt is, we’ve got to keep him healthy and work on ball security,” Gruden said. “Those are the two things in the offseason. I know [running backs coach] Randy Jordan will harp on that, and getting his pad level down a little bit. But health, ball security, those are the two biggest things.”

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