The future success of the Buccaneer offense doesn’t rest solely on rookie running back Ronald Jones, but there is a lot of hope riding on the former USC Trojan. The run game has been a problem for Tampa Bay in the last couple of years, which prompted general manager Jason Licht to spend a second round pick on the running back position.
The team is relying on Jones to contribute in his rookie year, splitting the majority of carries with Peyton Barber. It’s a good thing, then, that he is already gaining favor with Dirk Koetter. After Tuesday’s practice, the third-year head coach had some good things to say about his new running back.
“I have faith in him already. I can see how he works and I can see his explosiveness, so I already have faith in him. I’d just say that preseason games are part of it. He didn’t play all those plays at USC and not be a good running back. Preseason is part of it, but I’m not going to weigh that any more than what I’ve already seen.”
Ronald Jones II is definitely talented, as Koetter noted. That doesn’t mean he isn’t having to adjust to the NFL. Early in training camp, it has been evident that he still has some work to do. A lot of that work is in pass protection, which he has been knocked for in the past. But that facet of his game is bound to improve as he sees more reps throughout camp and the preseason.
Seeing a nice vote of confidence from Koetter, who has been around the NFL for over 10 years, is promising at this stage of the summer. The Bucs obviously have high hopes for him, and for good reason. Like Koetter said, he didn’t get such significant playing time in college at USC without being a good player. Over three seasons with the Trojans, he ran for 3,619 yards and 39 touchdowns. Tampa Bay badly needs that kind of production from him. The numbers from 2017 make that very clear:
Rushing Yards: 1,450 (27th in the NFL)
Yards Per Carry: 3.7 (27th)
Rushing Touchdowns: 8 (T-25th)
Rushing Yards Per Game: 90.6 (27th)
The run game has to get better. The Bucs have plenty of firepower in the passing game. Whether it’s Jameis Winston or Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, there’s a wealth of weapons available to throw to. Having Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin, Adam Humphries, Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard would be a thrill for any quarterback. However, things get harder when you can’t balance things out with a solid ground game. The Bucs know all too well how predictable it can get for opposing defenses when you have no run threat.
From what we’ve seen, Barber is a strong complementary back. But Tampa Bay needs Jones to be that same big-play, explosive running back he was during his college career. Soon enough, we’ll all get a glimpse of what Jones can do in a Buccaneer uniform. For now, though, it seems like he has at least one big fan inside One Buc Place.