The Redskins' lead running back has made some significant changes to his game, and they're already starting to pay off.
A few days ago at Redskins training camp, the founder of the "High and Tight" beeping football, along with his film crew, came to the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center to document its most recent and buzzed about client.
Running back Matt Jones, paired with running backs coach Randy Jordan, took some time before and after the morning's walkthroughs to provide testimony in front of a few cameramen about the technological pigskin he began using in the offseason that's been responsible for the change in the way he holds and protects the football.
If this were another infomercial you saw late at night or an advertisement before a video, you might be skeptical about the product Jones was endorsing. But if you've spent any time in Richmond, Va., over the last week watching practice, the extra exposure Jones received that day was proper validation.
Jones, and for that matter most of the running backs group, hasn't fumbled ("knock on wood," as Jones quickly amends to that assertion) so far in training camp. After his rookie season, in which the Florida product fumbled five times in 13 games, questions surfaced about his ability to be a lead running back in the NFL and if he could manage the responsibilities required for that role. So he turned to technology.
As has been well-reported throughout OTAs and minicamp, Jones began working with the "High and Tight" football, which beeps when all the necessary pressure points are squeezed correctly between the hand, the forearm and the bicep. After a couple of months, Jones says holding the ball up higher has become natural, and the production on the field has shown.
"Now that [Jordan] taught us that through OTAs it got easier and we're not really focused on holding the ball like that," Jones said. "It's just happening and you don't even know that you're squeezing the ball so tight because the way to hold and we're holding it like all fingers on the ball and we're squeezing it tight. If that ball don't squeeze and beep you got to go back again and make it squeeze. I'm happy about out our status and the ball security because that's the goal and we want that goal to go out through the whole year."
Even the defense has had fun with the narrative. Watch the end of a run past the whistle blowing and defensive end Ricky Jean Francois or cornerback Josh Norman will likely be slamming his fist at the ball, aiming to punch it out.
"I just like messing with him each and every day," Jean Francois said. "You know, last year he had a bit of a problem that won't be big this year because on defense we overemphasized trying to punch the ball out on the running backs end. [With] especially him, it doesn't matter where he's running, I'm going to run behind him and try to punch and get it out of his hand. I just want him to know that ball security is everything to us."
That progress is being made signifies the jump Jones has made into his sophomore season. No longer a rookie caught in the whirlwind of his first NFL experience, he's more conscious about his weaknesses, and more importantly, how he's trying to strengthen them.
The Washington Redskins offense conducted their eighth day of training camp practice, Tuesday August 5, 2016 at Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond, Va
Last Thursday, he took the day off from practice after his legs felt a little heavy and knee a bit sore from the previous week of work. On Friday, he was back out on the field feeling fresh, proving the value in balancing the work-rest relationship that will be key as he accrues the usual physical beating during a full season.
"I'm not going to get too carried away with [off days] because I love being out with my team but as a running back you got to know your body and I want to give the team everything I got," Jones said. "I don't want to be out there with sore knees and running a little slower and making reads a little slower. I want to be the best I can."
Training camp is an isolated experience in which the grind comes every day, and Jones knows that particular schedule won't be the same once the team returns to Loudoun County, Va. Still, even though the team hasn't geared up in full pads yet, optimism remains about his progression. Jones has taken initiative – in the way he holds the football and the way he prepares to take the field so he can hold it in the first place.
So far, it's been easy to buy what Jones is selling.
"He, and Randy Jordan, too, changed how he holds the ball and his work habits and it's paying off and I think it will pay off," head coach Jay Gruden said. "That is the first way to correct something is actually making a change, and he has done that, which is exciting."