Print and Go Back ESPN.com: AFC South [Print without images]

Thursday, August 6, 2009
Jones now in line for carries behind Jones-Drew

By Paul Kuharsky
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- There is no denying Jack Del Rio has a fondness for Greg Jones. The fullback is one of the coach's guys.

Some people see it and understand. Others are puzzled.

 
  Fernando Medina/US Presswire
  Despite just two carries last season, Greg Jones may be in line for more touches in 2009.

But part of the decision to let Fred Taylor go and move Maurice Jones-Drew to the lead running back position also included some confidence that the team had alternatives for additional carries starting with Jones, who's averaged just less than 4 yards a touch in his four seasons. (He missed 2006 with a knee injury.)

"When we brought Greg in, we knew we got a terrific college runner with size and we thought the makeup to be a Pro Bowl-type fullback and be a little bit like [former Buccaneer Mike] Alstott in that we think late in games he could really wear on people," Del Rio told me in June. "He's physical and can close things out, can become more of a presence. With Maurice and Fred both, there really weren't the carries for him.

"He's a great athlete, he's very unselfish and I believe in him. I just believe he's a good football player and he's the right kind of guy. But he's got to fight to be the best guy, we're not going to hand anything to anybody."

Rookie Rashad Jennings could earn some carries. He's done a lot to win over coaches, teammates and the press since coming in as a seventh-rounder out of Liberty.

Distribution to Jones-Drew will be an interesting storyline. One early line of questioning has been about plays that are splitting Jones-Drew wide and getting him the ball in space, which can help minimize the hits he takes and keep him fresher longer.

"The total volume maybe will go up a little bit for Maurice, but we've already had him very involved," Del Rio said. "I think the biggest thing that will happen is that we won't wait until the third series to get him in on first down. We were really bringing him in on third down and then slipping him in later in the game out of deference for Fred, and Fred was terrific.

"But now that's Maurice's spot and he'll start as the one guy and we'll be supplementing his carries with other guys and Greg will be in the mix for those carries."

In 2008, MJD got 46.2 percent of the carries and 34.4 percent of the touches when factoring in carries and catches.

Asked for an ideal distribution plan, Del Rio said to look for a slight increase for Drew.

"Maurice is a playmaker, we need to get the ball in his hands," he said.

Said Jones-Drew, who went out of his way to mention the team's other running backs: "We've gone from Fred and me to me and Greg. So the same one-two punch. ... It's going to be fun, you know? He can do a bunch. He's back to how he was in college, running hard, guys don't want to get in his way. I think a lot of people don't expect him to do much, but he's going to do a lot of great things for us."

I talked with Jones Wednesday, and he also used the Alstott comparison, though he was modest about how his role might change with the post-Taylor Jags.

"I've been playing running back since I was in middle school, I know how to run the ball," he said. "I just feel good that they have confidence in me, that they feel I can do that. Whatever they put on my shoulders I'm just ready for it. I'm really glad they feel that way about me."

We've paid a lot more attention to the second running back question in Houston, where the candidate list isn't as good behind Steve Slaton. So far we've seen good reports on Chris Brown, but he carries durability questions.

For the Jaguars, if Jones, Jennings, Chauncey Washington or Alvin Pearman can't be a reliable second option, the temptation to overuse Jones-Drew could pop up and the wear-down factor for him could be an issue.

Confidence in Jones right now, however, is off the charts.