Why the Bucs won’t play Ronald Jones

Tampa Bay is last in the NFL in rushing average at 3.0 yards per attempt, but their second-round pick from Southern Cal can't get a uniform
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones II (27) avoids a tackle by Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Vincent Taylor (96), to score a touchdown during the first half of an NFL preseason football game Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones II (27) avoids a tackle by Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Vincent Taylor (96), to score a touchdown during the first half of an NFL preseason football game Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Published Sept. 27, 2018|Updated Sept. 27, 2018

TAMPA — There's a lot running back Ronald Jones still has to learn about playing in the National Football League.

"I didn't know only 46 players would really dress (for the games)," Jones said. There are 53 players on every roster and seven are inactive on game day.

Jones learned that lesson the hard way. The second-round pick from Southern California has played as many snaps this season as Jameis Winston. But in Jones' case, there is no suspension, just suspense.

Mostly, one very big question: How can the Bucs, who have the worst rushing average (3.0) in the league, not attempt to play a running back they drafted specifically to give them more explosive runs?

"Just a number of factors," offensive coordinator Todd Monken said of why Jones hasn't played this season. "I'd rather not get into that, but again, there's some things we'd like to see more of."

Of course, the Bucs would probably say this is picking nits. Tampa Bay has the league's top overall and passing offense, averaging 473.3 total yards and 410 passing yards per game.

In wins at New Orleans and against the Eagles, the Bucs built big leads in the passing game. On Monday night, they trailed 30-10 at halftime, having to abandon the ground game.

But in order to slow a pass rush like one belonging to the Bears, who lead the league with 14 sacks, you have to run the football.

Yet Jones remains buried on the Bucs' depth chart as their No. 4 running back, behind Peyton Barber, Jacquizz Rodgers and Duke undrafted free agent Shaun Wilson, who serves as the team's kickoff returner. During game weeks, Jones mostly runs scout squad plays from the opposing offense.

"It's a week-to-week thing in terms of all of our players. Ronald happens to be one of those guys," Monken said. "What we saw in the preseason and also on special teams, we thought going forward in the first three games, (Wilson) gave us some things that Ronald didn't. Again, that's week to week and the toughest part is you got young guys who need reps and they're not going to get reps if they're not going to be up."

So where is Jones?

It's important to note that Jones is a very young football player. He was 20 when the Bucs drafted him and did not turn 21 until last month. At USC, Jones was used primarily as a ball carrier. He caught only 32 passes in his career. Pass protection is one of the most difficult things for a running back to perfect at the NFL level and coaches have to trust you have the technique and understanding of the defense to protect the quarterback.

On top of that, depth charts are formed in offseason workouts, minicamps, training camp and the preseason. Jones fell behind Wilson in many areas, including special teams. He also averaged only 0.8 yards per carry in the preseason.

"I guess it's just a week to week kind of league," Jones said. "You know, I didn't know that coming in. And yeah, you've got to really stand out in practice and training camp and preseason. It's very important."

Jones didn't stand out, as a runner on special teams, anyway. He caught one pass for 37 yards, his lone highlight of the preseason.

But the Bucs may be at fault here, too.

It's possible Jones was over-drafted. The Bucs conducted film study and interviews with Jones to determine how quickly he could contribute and it's unlikely they would've taken him in the second round had they believed he would start the first three weeks of the season fourth on the depth chart.

That said, running backs taken ahead of Jones — Saquon Barkley (46-216 yards, two TDs) Sony Michel (24-84) and Rashaad Penny (20-43) —haven't exactly taken the NFL by storm. It's a very small sample size, but when healthy, they have played.

Even if Jones is limited in the passing game, either as a receiver or blocker, it doesn't mean that Monken can't install a package of plays for him to run in an effort to stimulate the running game. Barber has rushed for 124 yards on 43 carries (2.9 avg.) as the primary tailback. Rodgers has 13 yards on nine carries.

"There's no question that it's up to us to develop the players," Monken said. "Now what happens is, there's certain guys who develop faster than others. There's some guys, not by age but by maturity, are further ahead and the way they process or the system they've been in."

Jones is hopeful he will get a chance to play soon.

"It's been tough, but winning cures all," Jones said. "I just want to be part of the reason we win. So I'm just waiting for my opportunity and when I get in, take advantage of it."

Coach Dirk Koetter insists that Jones will get his chance.

"Listen, I've said it multiple times: Rojo's day is coming," Koetter said. "And this has nothing to do with anything he's not doing well. It's on me. It's on us. His day is coming. You know, guys can get drafted where they get drafted but my job is to put the 46 guys out there that give us a chance that week to win and that's always what we're going to do."