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Ronald Jones returns: ‘We need to get him going’

Bucs coach Bruce Arians says despite a broken finger and bout with COVID-19, Jones is ready to roll.
Bucs running back Ronald Jones, left, needs 100 yards to reach the milestone of 1,000 in a season for the first time.
Bucs running back Ronald Jones, left, needs 100 yards to reach the milestone of 1,000 in a season for the first time. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jan. 1, 2021

TAMPA — A broken left pinky finger won’t prevent Ronald Jones from getting a chance to carry the Bucs’ run game again.

Coach Bruce Arians said Friday that he wants Jones to get plenty of rushing attempts in Sunday’s home game against the Falcons.

Jones has missed two games since injuring his finger against the Vikings on Dec. 13. Following surgery to insert a pin, Jones then was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. He needs 100 yards to reach the 1,000-yard plateau for the first time in his career.

“We need to get him going,” Arians said. “It’s a totally different speed than practice. He looked great in practice. He’s catching the football really okay with that thing on his hand, kind of like Chris (Godwin) did. It was a struggle at first but he’s getting better at it. We need his explosiveness out there.”

Godwin, the Bucs’ Pro Bowl receiver, missed only one game after he had 10 pins placed in a broken index finger. Surprisingly, it didn’t affect his production. Upon his return to the lineup, Godwin caught six passes for 92 yards in a win at Carolina.

While Arians said Jones has been able to catch the ball in practice, he has had to do so with the use of only three fingers on his left hand.

“(Jones) cannot extend his finger, so his fingers are rolled up in the cast so basically he has three fingers on his left hand,” Arians said. “(Godwin) can use, basically, the other two sticking out. It was a struggle at first, but he’s getting used to it. He’s primarily a right-handed ball (carrier), so that’s not a big thing as far as running the ball.”

The Bucs have clinched an NFC playoff spot and currently hold the No. 5 seed. Arians has insisted he will play the team’s starters in an attempt to win their 11th game and hold onto the higher seed that would earn them a playoff game against the winner of the NFC East.

Certainly, the Bucs have plenty of depth at running back. Jaguars free agent Leonard Fournette stepped in as a starter for Jones the past two games and rushed 23 times for 83 yards and three touchdowns.

The Bucs also have received contributions from rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn and veteran LeSean McCoy in Jones’ absence. Fournette said earlier this week he hopes Jones is able to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark Sunday.

“He deserves that. He deserves that deeply,” Fournette said.

Arians said the keys to the Bucs’ offensive outburst in wins over the Falcons and Lions have been the ability to run the ball effectively and protect quarterback Tom Brady utilizing play-action.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt,” Arians said. “Run the ball effectively and then keep him clean. When we’ve done that, we’ve been pretty solid offensively. That and eliminating penalties.”

If there’s any concern about Jones, it would be his conditioning. But Arians believes Jones is ready to shoulder the rushing load again.

“He can handle it,” Arians said. “He’s in great shape and he didn’t really have any trouble with the (cardio) work up after the (COVID-19) test. He’s in good, good shape and ready to roll.”

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