Heading into the 2018 NFL Draft, the Buccaneers desperately needed to add a running back. With Peyton Barber as the only guy locked into a backfield spot, Tampa Bay added Ronald Jones II out of USC in the second round, presumably as the No. 2, if not No. 1, guy.
Throughout the summer, there was a lot of hype building around Jones, a back that the Bucs selected over potential first-rounder Derrius Guice. As the preseason rolled around, Jones was a popular answer as to who everyone was most excited to see in game action. What came next was a whole lot of nothing. He picked up his first touchdown run in the preseason opener against Miami and caught a 37-yard pass against Detroit, but was largely ineffective otherwise.
Jones’ preseason numbers totaled out to just 22 rushing yards on 28 carries. He didn’t always have the best blocking up front, but still looked hesitant regardless. After Thursday’s preseason finale, head coach Dirk Koetter answered whether he was concerned with the struggles and addressed the rumor that circulated last week about Jones not grasping the playbook:
“A little bit, yep. I can’t give you a good answer for it. I saw it in practice, but we weren’t able to get it going during the game. For whatever reason, when his runs came up, we didn’t block them very well, number one. He wasn’t able to do much with it on his own. I don’t have a good answer for you; of course, I haven’t seen the tape from tonight. But, it didn’t look pretty from what I saw. Again, when you have bad running plays, rarely is it one guy’s fault. Sometimes it is, but rarely. It’s a combination of things. I know from Ronald’s standpoint, it’s not at all from lack of effort or from him not knowing what he’s doing. I know there’s been a little undercurrent out there of him not knowing the playbook. I want to make sure I’m real clear on that. That is not an issue.”
There are certainly some positives and negatives in what Koetter said about his rookie running back. It’s definitely a good thing that he is at least showing some flashes in practice. It’s also reassuring to know that he is working hard and not having any problems with the playbook. That’s all good. But the negative here is the clear disconnect that currently exists between practice Ronald Jones and game Ronald Jones.
Perhaps with time, and a healthy starting offensive line in front of him, Jones will show up and be the player that he was in college. But Koetter’s concern does feel warranted. His is likely at a lower level than most of the Buccaneer fan base. Jones, even with the bad blocking, didn’t manage to show much burst in preseason action. He didn’t make many guys miss and he didn’t appear to have much confidence in his ability.
The hope for him, Koetter and anyone attached to the Bucs is that a switch flips here soon. The team needs a confident, efficient RoJo. Otherwise, that “little bit” of concern will grow significantly larger.