TAMPA — When he’s healthy, the Bucs offense runs through Ronald Jones. But illness and a quad injury have prevented him from carrying the rushing load.
Jones, who did not play in the Bucs’ 31-23 win in the NFC wild-card game at Washington, returned to practice on a limited basis Thursday.
While backup tailback Leonard Fournette filled in admirably with 93 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries in Saturday’s game, he doesn’t have Jones’ explosiveness.
That’s why offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich is so anxious to have Jones for Sunday’s NFC division playoff game at New Orleans.
“I think he’s one of the better runners of the football in this league when he’s healthy,” Leftwch said. “I think that’s what he is. So anytime you don’t have the opportunity to have that type of guy, it’s tough. ... We’ll see (about Sunday) but I told you guys this all year: Rojo is a special guy with the football in his hands.”
Jones missed two games on the reserve/COVID-19 list. He returned for the regular-season finale against Atlanta and rushed 12 times for 78 yards, finishing only 22 yards shy of the 1,000-yard milestone.
The Bucs should have a full complement of running backs to choose from against the Saints. Veteran LeSean McCoy also has returned from an illness that forced him to miss the Washington game. Rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn is full go.