Bucs-Jaguars: Playbook isn’t an issue for Ronald Jones, coach Dirk Koetter says

Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler takes down Bucs running back Ronald Jones during the first quarter Thursday night. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler takes down Bucs running back Ronald Jones during the first quarter Thursday night. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Published August 30 2018
Updated August 31 2018

TAMPA — Receiver Bobo Wilson gained 21 yards on a run Thursday night, nearly as many as Ronald Jones, the running back the Bucs drafted with the 38th overall pick, gained during the entire preseason.

In Tampa Bay's 25-10 loss to Jacksonville, Jones gained 4 yards on 10 carries, bringing his preseason total to 22 yards on 28 carries. He wasn't solely to blame for the meager output Thursday. He often had to fight off tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage, twice losing 5 yards. Undrafted rookie Shaun Wilson gained 71 yards on 15 carries this preseason.

Coach Dirk Koetter said that while he's concerned about Jones' slow start, the lack of production isn't the result of a lack of effort.

"When we have bad running plays, rarely is it one guy's fault," he said. "I know from Ronald's standpoint, it's not at all from lack of effort or from him not knowing what he's doing. I know there's been a little undercurrent out there about him not knowing the playbook, and I want to make sure I'm real clear on that. That is not an issue."

Pete Prisco of CBS Sports reported last week that Jones was struggling to pick up the offense.

"It's been a slow process for him," Prisco said. "With these young backs, sometimes it takes them a little time to feel comfortable, to put your foot in the ground and go."

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Spence starts

If things had worked as the Bucs hoped when they picked defensive end Noah Spence in the second round of the 2016 draft, he wouldn't have been in uniform Thursday. But Spence played throughout the game while Will Clarke, who signed with the team just before the start of last season, had the night off. In three seasons, Spence has played in 22 games, had four shoulder dislocations and two surgeries.

Spence said he knew he was going to play most of the game.

"I've been itching for it," he said. "It felt great to just be out there running around with the guys, making calls, making tackles and everything like that."

Is he on the roster bubble?

"The best thing you can do is grind every day, work hard and give all praise to God," he said. "Nothing else you can do."

Receivers fight to the finish

Rookie Justin Watson further solidified his case for a roster spot Thursday, catching a 2-yard touchdown in the second quarter to cap an 83-yard drive. Assuming the fifth-round draft pick survives the Sept. 1 roster cutdown from 90 players to 53, that leaves three receivers fighting for one spot. Bernard Reedy caught all five of his targets for 85 yards, Bobo Wilson caught five passes for 51 yards and Freddie Martino was targeted once but did not make a catch.

"They all have different strengths," said quarterback Ryan Griffin, who completed 17 of 27 passes for 151 yards. "Reedy is really quick, you want to try and get him in space so he can make people miss. Freddie is really good at the top of routes getting open. Then J-Wat is a big, strong, physical guy. You can see that with his routes, getting people off of him against man (defense)."

Kickoff returns are up

Count on seeing an uptick in scoring this season.

Not because you'll see more passing or rushing touchdowns, but because you'll see more kickoff returns.

In May, the NFL approved changes to its kickoff rules, which include prohibiting players on the kicking team from getting a running start before the kickoff. The league pitched the changes as a way to reduce collisions, but what we've seen this preseason is an increase in the number of returns.

Entering Thursday, teams were averaging 2.8 returns per game. They averaged 2.4 during last preseason and about two per game during the regular season.

The Bucs returned 17 kickoffs this preseason, including five Thursday, for an average of 24 yards. They had four returns of at least 30 yards (three by Shaun Wilson and one by Bobo Wilson).

Old-school new uniforms

The Jaguars offense might not be all that exciting, but at least it'll be a little easier on our eyes this season. They've overhauled their uniforms and while they're a bit basic, they're a vast improvement over the costumes they had been wearing, mainly because they ditched the black-to-gold gradient helmet for a solid black one.

If only the Bucs could do something about the digital number font on their jerseys …

We'll have to wait until at least 2019. NFL rules stipulate teams can't change their uniforms more than once every five seasons, and the Bucs introduced their current set in 2014.

Bucs release Sims

The Bucs waived running back Charles Sims after reaching an injury settlement. Sims suffered a knee injury during the opening kickoff of the game against the Titans two weeks ago. A third-round draft pick in 2014, he gained more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage and scored eight touchdowns in four seasons for Tampa Bay.

Miscellaneous

The Bucs had a halftime lead during each game this preseason, surpassing their total from last season (three). … The Bucs and Jaguars held a moment of silence before the game to honor those affected by the shooting Sunday at a Madden video game tournament in Jacksonville.

Contact Thomas Bassinger at [email protected] Follow @tometrics

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