What’s wrong with Bucs rookie running back Ronald Jones?

Jones had a terrible preseason running the football, gaining only 22 yards on 28 rushing attempts. But Dirk Koetter said Jones knows what he's doing
Bucs running back Ronald Jones (27) breaks through tackles while running drills in July in Tampa. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
Bucs running back Ronald Jones (27) breaks through tackles while running drills in July in Tampa. [CHRIS URSO | Times]
Published Aug. 31, 2018|Updated Aug. 31, 2018

TAMPA — Whenever a running back has more rushing attempts than yards, there's reason for concern. When that running back is Ronald Jones, the Bucs' second round pick from Southern Cal, it's confounding.

Jones had his most extended play in the Bucs' 25-10 preseason loss to the Jaguars Thursday night. But he had little more than a few new welts to show for it.

Two of his first three carries against the Jaguars each went for a loss of five yards. Jones finished with four yards on 10 rushing attempts. On the preseason, he rushed for only 22 yards on 28 attempts, a 0.8-yard average, with one touchdown.

Known for his explosive runs, Jones' longest in the preseason was five yards.

The lack of production has raised some flags. Then you watch the tape of the plays and realize Jones had no chance to do anything with the football because defenders were being turned loose by missed assignments.

"Ronald Jones had three straight runs in the first half where we had a mental error by the blockers up front,'' coach Dirk Koetter said. "Then the fourth one is the one where we were backed up on our 1-yard line, and I'm sure if I was Ronald Jones, I'd be thinking the same thing: get this ball out of the end zone after I had just been hit for a 5-yard loss."

By contrast, running back Peyton Barber had an outstanding preseason, rushing 15 times for 87 yards and two touchdowns. But Barber has two seasons under his belt and a better understanding of Koetter's offense.

Jones, 21, was the fifth running back taken in the 2018 draft behind the Giants' Saquon Barkley (2nd overall), the Seahawks Rashaad Penny (27), the Patriots Sony Michel (31) and the Browns' Nick Chubb, who was the third pick of the second round (35).

Only Barkley has flashed, but 39 of his 43 rushing yards came on his first NFL carry. He hurt his hamstring and finished with only five rushing attempts. Penny had eight carries for 16 yards, with a long of seven. Michel hurt his knee and had no rushes. And Chubb carried 45 times for 140 yards and two touchdowns (3.11 average).

The Bucs had a rash of injuries on the offensive line, and Jones rarely got to run behind that first unit. When he did get in the game, there weren't too many NFL caliber players in front of him.

"Again, when you have bad running plays, rarely is it one guy's fault,'' Koetter 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."

The other thing about the running back position is that good runners get better with repetitions. The preseason doesn't allow for a big workload during a game.

"All the great ones want the ball,'' Koetter said.

That's not to say Jones hasn't struggled. Pass protection is the biggest hurdle for young running backs. Jones also only caught 32 passes in three seasons at USC. While his hands are adequate, he has work to do in that area and running routes.

"Ronald is doing good things in practice,'' Koetter said. "We're happy with where he is. I'm not happy, not anything to do with him, but how we blocked some for him and, coaching-wise, we didn't go a good enough job to get him in space.''

BUCS CUTS: The team released RB Devine Redding, WR Donteea Dye, S Josh Liddell, QB Austin Allen, TE Matt Weiser and DT Adam Reth.