With a strong, but inconsistent, rookie season under him, the Redskins believe Matt Jones has the ability to be the featured running back in 2016.
After a year that saw running back Matt Jones demonstrate his physical tools, turn heads with his speed and remind everyone that he's still a rookie, the Redskins believe he has the opportunity to be their primary back for 2016.
"We drafted him with that intent," head coach Jay Gruden said Wednesday, and his promising first season in the NFL has only buttressed those hopes.
Of course, Jones is not guaranteed anything at this point, even if he is the only running back on the roster under contract for next year. As a backup to Alfred Morris, he averaged 3.4 yards per carry, rushing for 490 yards and three touchdowns and adding 304 receiving yards out of the backfield.
But Jones also missed three games with an injury – Gruden said the Florida product received surgery on his hip after the season and has recovered well – and lost four fumbles, an issue that plagued him throughout the year.
"The big thing about Matt is, we've got to keep him healthy and work on ball security – those are the two things in the offseason," Gruden said. "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."
General manager Scot McCloughan, who drafted Jones in the third round last year, echoed Gruden.
"I think so," he said of Jones' ability to take over as the featured back. "But he's got to do it. He's got to hold onto the ball. That's huge for a running back. He's a young guy that's got a lot of talent. He's got some really good ball skills but he's got to stay healthy and hold onto the ball. But I feel really comfortable about him going into the season fighting for the one job for sure."
Beyond Jones, the running back position is still a bit of a mystery. As President Bruce Allen inferred a few weeks ago at the Super Bowl, Morris will likely test the market once March 9 rolls around and "if he gets a great contract, we're going to applaud him, if not, we'll see what happens with us," Allen said.
"I'm not going to say he's a longshot," Gruden said of Morris. "There's not one negative thing I can say about Alfred Morris as a person and as a player. When you talk about running backs, the most important things you talk about are ball security and durability. He's been durable and he's protected the football. He's been very productive. And those are three things that are hard to say about any running back for the amount of time he's played the position. We wish him well if we don't get him done, but if we do get him done we'll welcome him back with open arms."
Among those that will still be options for the Redskins to consider are Chris Thompson, Pierre Thomas and Silas Redd Jr., though McCloughan doesn't believe it's necessary to sign a veteran just because he's a veteran. To him, it's all about talent.
"It doesn't have to be a veteran," McCloughan said. "It has to be a good football player. It's plain and simple. We'll see what we do with Alfred, but Chris Thompson had a really nice year. We've got Mack Brown on the staff, a very intriguing guy. We brought in Pierre Thomas later in the year but you know, I like youth, but I like talent. I like the opportunity to run the football and take care of the quarterback."