AFC West: Taiwan Jones

It’s New Year’s Day, Black Friday and the season premiere of "The Price is Right," all wrapped in one silver and black package, with Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie channeling his inner Bob Barker.

Even if the Raiderettes were Barker’s Beauties and Oakland’s 17 scheduled unrestricted free agents were mixed and matched as the prizes in a showcase showdown, McKenzie has yet to show his hand as he sits with close to $65 million in salary-cap space. Even as Pro Bowl fullback Marcel Reece implored his general manager to eschew “safe moves” in favor of “smart, calculated, fearless, Raider-ass moves” when free agency begins today at 1 p.m. PT.

Thus far, the Raiders’ two biggest free agents, left tackle Jared Veldheer and defensive end Lamarr Houston, have been linked to the Arizona Cardinals and Chicago Bears, respectively. Oakland, meanwhile, has been reportedly kicking the tires on St. Louis Rams offensive lineman Rodger Saffold and Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, while many see the Raiders as being interested in picking up cornerback Darrelle Revis if and when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cut him.

McKenzie, meanwhile, maintained his position: “What I want to do is make this team better. And that’s what we’re going to set out to do this Tuesday and really, not waiting until Tuesday but, just with our own team, just trying to get things done. We want to upgrade this football team and we intend to do that.”

Speaking at the Commitment to Excellence Dinner, which honored Reece on Saturday night, McKenzie pointed to the re-signing of offensive lineman Khalif Barnes and re-upping special-teams ace Taiwan Jones as steps in that direction.

“That’s why it’s important to keep those good players,” McKenzie said. “Khalif, the worker he is, Taiwan is here to support Marcel, and, of course, Marcel. Those are the type of guys, they know the whole Raider [way], the direction we want to go. So we want the guys to be positive for everybody in that locker room.”

True, but which guys, exactly? McKenzie’s patient approach the past two seasons was exacerbated by the Raiders needing to shed salary. Now? These are unchartered waters for the third-year GM, what with so much cap space.

But keep this in mind: He said two years ago that, even with so much cap space, that did not mean he would be shopping at Macy’s. And in January he said, “Just because I have $5 in my pocket, that doesn’t mean I have to spend all of it ... on junk.”

Reggie McKenzie, come on down ...

Raiders sign Jones to extension

February, 24, 2014
Oakland Raiders special teams ace Taiwan Jones, who has made the transition from running back to cornerback and back again, signed a three-year contract extension to keep him with the Raiders through 2017, the team announced Monday.

Jones, a Raiders fourth-round pick (No. 125 overall) in 2011 out of Eastern Washington, went to Deer Valley High in nearby Antioch.

“I was excited when they came to me about the extension,” Jones said in the release. “It is definitely a blessing for a local kid to be part of the Raiders’ turnaround. I’ve been an underdog all my life, so I think it’s very fitting for me to remain here. I’m definitely excited about it.”

Jones was being promoted for the Pro Bowl by the Raiders last year as a “gunner” and, after making the switch to cornerback last year, went back to running back when Darren McFadden, Rashad Jennings and Jeremy Stewart were all injured.

In his career, Jones has 117 yards rushing on 27 carries with six catches for 91 yards and 810 yards on 36 kickoff returns. He also has 32 special teams tackles and has recovered two fumbles.

“It’s rare to see and to know that my local team wants me to stay home, and it’s just a blessing,” Jones added. “I’m glad to be a part of it, happy to remain here and there are big things coming that I am happy to be part of it. I feel good about next year. Obviously, I was able to do a lot of good things on special teams last year. Unfortunately, I didn't make the Pro Bowl last year, but that is something I’m shooting for this year.”
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Taiwan Jones moved from cornerback back to running back for the Oakland Raiders in early December out of necessity when Rashad Jennings, Darren McFadden and Jeremy Stewart were all injured on Thanksgiving.

Now that all three tailbacks are healthy, Jones, who was initially drafted out of Eastern Washington in 2011 as a running back, is back on the defensive side of the ball.

"I don't mind it at all," Jones said Thursday. "Like I've said before, as long as I'm playing, as long as I'm being productive and helping the team, I don't mind. I don't care if it's offense, special teams or defense, as long as I'm out there."

In three games, Jones carried the ball four times and gained 4 yards, but also caught two passes for a combined 55 yards, 52 coming on one play.

Did it feel good for the former running back to line up in the offensive backfield over the past month?

"Yeah, most definitely," he said. "The fact that I was able to help out and get some live reps out there, that felt good. And I was successful in some so it always feels good when you can be successful in something."

Raiders coach Dennis Allen said Jones has put together a solid case for the Pro Bowl as a special teams player, leading the Raiders in special teams tackles and exceling on punt coverage as the gunner.

"He's dominant in that area," Allen said.

Still, Allen said Jones' future in the NFL is as a cornerback.

"That's the head man, he makes the decisions and it's my job to take what he says and apply it and get better at it," Jones said. "If it's defense, then that's what I'm going to put my effort at. Like I said, I really don't mind where I'm at."

Rashad Jennings inactive for Raiders

December, 8, 2013
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Rashad Jennings, who suffered a concussion in the Thanksgiving Day game at Dallas, was among the seven inactive Oakland Raiders players for Sunday's game against the New York Jets.

As such, the Raiders will be without all three running backs from that loss to the Cowboys as Jennings, Darren McFadden (ankle) and Jeremy Stewart (ankle/knee) are all inactive.

Fullback Marcel Reece is expected to move over to tailback and Taiwan Jones, who converted from running back to cornerback this season, should spell Reece.

Following are the Raiders' inactives: SS Tyvon Branch, RG Mike Brisiel, RB Darren McFadden, WR Denarius Moore, RB Jeremy Stewart, RB Rashad Jennings, OL Lamar Mady.

Midseason Report: Oakland Raiders

November, 6, 2013
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- You knew this was going to be a rebuilding year for the Oakland Raiders and, before Sunday's embarrassing 49-20 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Oakland was playing above expectations. Indeed, after a 4-12 season last year, the Raiders had a chance to win their fourth game at this year's midway points.

Alas, the Eagles and Nick Foles, who threw a record-tying seven touchdowns, had different plans and it makes you wonder if these are indeed the same old Raiders who have not been to the playoffs since 2002, let alone had a winning season since that Super Bowl campaign. The difference, at least on the surface, is this team has been in every game save two -- at Denver and against the Eagles.

But the NFL is a results-oriented business and at the midway point, the Raiders sit at 3-5.

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The Oakland Raiders will use Taiwan Jones and Jacoby Ford to return kickoffs and punts again this week, against the Philadelphia Eagles, despite Ford’s recent problems against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Ford, who holds the Raiders’ record for most kickoff returns for a touchdown in a season (three, in 2010) and a career (four), was moved to punt returner against the Steelers and endured the roughest outing of his four-year career.

He had a swift 20-yard punt return the first time he touched the ball, but then fumbled it out of bounds when he was tackled. Ford then badly misjudged two punts, allowing the Raiders to be pinned on their own 1-yard line before almost turning it over on a ball that nearly hit his shin.

Ford also lost a fumble on a catch in the left flat in the fourth quarter, which led to the Steelers’ first touchdown two plays later.

“Jacoby’s going to be just fine,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said when asked about Ford’s confidence this week.

“I think we all realize, listen, sometimes you go out and you don’t play a good game. We talk all the time – the sin’s not in getting knocked down. The sin’s not being able to get back up. All our guys have done a great job when they haven’t performed up to their standards. They’ve come back and they’ve responded and I expect him to do the same.”

While the Raiders have one of the most complete kick-coverage units in the NFL, their return games have been somewhat stagnant, averaging 9.2 yards per punt return, which ranks 12th in the NFL, and 21.5 yards on kickoffs, 23rd in the league.

So why the change, one that removed Phillip Adams from punt-return duties?

“We’ve got to get something going in the return game and so we’re always looking for any way that we can help to provide a spark or improve our football team in any way that we can,” Allen said.

“I think those guys give us a little bit of spark in those particular areas and we’re going to continue to look at that and hopefully that’ll be what we need to get this return game going.”
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Taiwan Jones, drafted to be a speedy change-of-pace back for Darren McFadden in 2011 before being converted to cornerback this offseason, has found a home on special teams.

And he’s made being a gunner on the Raiders’ punt-coverage teams somewhat fashionable.

“I think Taiwan Jones, if he’s not the best special-teams player in the league, he’s one of the best in the league,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. “He’s a difference-maker in all of our coverage units.

“The type of speed that he’s got, his willingness to go down and create contact and make tackles ... those are the things that you have to have and I think he’s done an outstanding job.”

Besides disrupting punt returners, often while being double-teamed, Jones has also flashed his world-class speed. On a trick play against Washington, he took the direct snap from Jon Condo after the Raiders shifted into a formation out of a punt with Jacoby Ford just off center. Jones then sped off for a 19-yard gain and a first down.

And, yes, while there was satisfaction in bursting down the left sideline on that play, his main job description is to blow up punt returns. And the way he’s been playing the position of late -- he has five tackles on the season, including two at Kansas City last weekend -- he is getting satisfaction out of it.

“I have a lot of pleasure,” he said. “I’m having fun out there. Being a gunner, it’s one of those positions where it’s not too much scheming; it’s just man on man, mano y mano out there, and whoever has the most effort out there is going to win. That’s one thing I enjoy.”

Sunday, he limited Dexter McCluster to a 1-yard punt return off a Marquette King 50-yard punt in the third quarter before stopping McCluster for a 7-yard gain on a 51-yard King punt in the fourth.

“You’ve got to watch film,” Jones said. “You’ve got to learn other team’s tendencies, key into some of the clues they give you and use them to your advantage.”

Jones said his goal is to make the Pro Bowl as a special-teamer.

“I’m shooting to be the best at what I’m doing right now,” he said.

Allen obviously believes Jones will come through on that promise.

“It means a lot because when you’re putting it out on the field every day,” Jones said, “it’s good to see your head coach notice that.”

Jones is making it easy for Allen, and opponents, to notice.
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Looking for a silver lining in the Raiders’ come-from-ahead 24-14 loss to Washington on Sunday?

Go to the 9:10 mark of the second quarter, when Oakland faced a fourth-and-1 at its own 28-yard line and was lined up to punt.

The result was described by Raiders coach Dennis Allen as “stealing a possession” against Washington.

Jacoby Ford went into motion and settled on the line of scrimmage before the snap and went directly to the speedy Taiwan Jones, who took off down the left side of the field for a 19-yard pick up and a first down.

Jones said the play had been installed two weeks prior.

“I was actually surprised we ran it,” Jones said Monday.

“We had it called right away, so it was already planned and we were just able to execute it.”

Jones, whose speed has never been in question, changed positions this season from running back to cornerback (no, Allen did not anticipate moving him back with Darren McFadden's hamstring now in question) but has stuck to the Raiders’ roster with his special teams play. Especially as a gunner.

But Sunday, he also showed himself to be a different kind of weapon.

“When your number’s called, I would hope your radar would go up,” Jones said. “It was just one of those things where (Allen) felt like we were in good position to make the call and he called it. My number was up and I had a good block up front so we were able to execute it.”

The storybook ending would be that Oakland, clinging to a 14-10 lead, finished the “stolen” possession with a score, right? Instead, the Raiders ran three more plays, picked up 8 yards and punted ... on fourth-and-2.

Progress being made in Oakland

August, 10, 2013

Random thoughts from the Oakland Raiders’ 19-17 home win over Dallas:

This season is going to be all about progress for this rebuilding program. And the first step has to be looked at as positive progress.

Dennis Allen has raved about how much this team loves football. It was easy to see Friday night. The Raiders were very spirited and fought to win this game. Every unit worked hard. This is one of the more interesting teams in the league this preseason because there is competition virtually all over the field. Competition breeds fighting spirit.

That’s the best thing Oakland has going for it right now. It wants to get better. I also think that is a credit to coach Dennis Allen and his staff. This game showed the coaching staff’s message is sinking in.

Now, let’s not get too crazy. The Raiders were far from perfect against Dallas and have a long way to go. But they seem like they are on the right track as a program.

The quarterback position is intriguing in Oakland. All four quarterbacks are a question mark.

Starter Matt Flynn was decent. He wasn’t great or terrible, although losing a fumble early was not good. Flynn will be the Raiders’ starting quarterback to start the season. The question is can he keep the job all season?

And, is anyone ready to take it from him?

Backup quarterback Terrelle Pryor was interesting Friday. He clearly has improved some and that’s a testament to his major work ethic and want-to attitude. But he has his inconsistencies. He forced an interception in the red zone and still seems raw. But he also made some things happen with his feet. Pryor is exciting and there will be a place for him.

Undrafted quarterback Matt McGloin continued to impress. He and fellow rookie Brice Butler connected on a beauty of a touchdown. McGloin received pro-style coaching at Penn State from Bill O‘Brien last year and it’s paying off. McGloin was much better than fourth-round pick Tyler Wilson. Wilson was previously considered an option to start this year. Now, he’s just trying to make the roster. While McGloin is doing well, it would be difficult to think an undrafted rookie could be in the starting mix in his first year.
  • Rookie linebacker Sio Moore had a huge sack of Tony Romo. The third-round pick from Connecticut is an exciting player. The Raiders hope he can give them a much-needed pass-rush burst.
  • Taiwan Jones, who converted to cornerback from running back this year, had a solid game and worked to solidify his status on the roster.
  • There were some issues as the offensive line. The pass rush and pass defense suffered at times.
  • Marquette King closed in on veteran punter Chris Kluwe, but Kluwe still remains the favorite to win the job.
  • The running back stable looks deep, which is a nice change from last year. Rashad Jennings, Latavius Murray and Jamize Olawale all looked good.
  • None of the tight ends separated themselves in the chase to be the starter.
  • Undrafted rookie defensive back Chance Casey built on a strong camp with a good game Friday night.

Previewing Raiders vs. Cowboys

August, 9, 2013
Here are three keys for the Oakland Raiders to focus on in Friday’s preseason opener against visiting Dallas. Kickoff is set for 10 p.m. ET.:

The quarterbacks: All four quarterbacks on Oakland’s roster must play well in the preseason for different reason. It will be fascinating to watch the entire game when Oakland is on offense.

The pass rush: The Raiders have to show a better pass rush and it needs players to step up. Someone must flash during the preseason.

Taiwan Jones: The converted running back should get some solid playing time at cornerback. He has had a solid camp. He should make the team because of his great special teams play. But he does need to play well at cornerback.
NAPA, Calif. -- One of the more interesting players in the Oakland Raiders' training camp is converted cornerback Taiwan Jones.

The team moved Jones, a fourth-round draft pick in 2011, from running back to cornerback this offseason. Jones entered college as a cornerback, but the speedster had college success at running back.

Jones made his mark in his first two NFL seasons as a special-teams player, especially on coverage teams where his speed and tackling ability were often on display. Jones expressed interest in moving to cornerback after last season. The team’s brass decided early in the offseason to move him to cornerback. Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie said that he had Jones projected as a cornerback when he scouted him while with the Packers.

Jones admitted this week that he is dealing with the change on a daily basis.

“The bottom line is as long as I have that Raiders emblem on my helmet, I’m happy to be here,” Jones said. “I just want to make the team.”

Jones has an uphill battle to make the roster. But because of his play on special teams, Jones may get time to develop at cornerback.

Taiwan Jones expected to move to CB

February, 22, 2013
INDIANAPOLIS -- Late last season, Oakland running back Taiwan Jones told reporters that he’d consider moving to cornerback to enhance his NFL career.

Now, with some time to think about it, the Raiders’ top decision-maker agrees with him.

“I’m pushing for cornerback,” Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie said Friday from the NFL combine. “I think it fits his skill set. I think we’re going to see how he does there.”

McKenzie acknowledged it will not be easy for Jones to make a position switch, but he thinks the speedy player can do it. McKenzie said he’d be thrilled if Jones could someday develop into a nickel cornerback.

McKenzie said he is most encouraged by Jones’ ability to make the switch because of his outstanding play on special teams. He has shown a strong ability to tackle, to go along with his speed. McKenzie said he had Jones projected as a cornerback when Oakland took him in the fourth round out of Eastern Washington in 2011.

Jones has had a hard time staying healthy and has made little impact. He has 94 career yards on 22 carries.

McKenzie reiterated that the plan remains to move Michael Huff to safety. He played cornerback last season in an emergency.

UPDATE: I asked Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. his thoughts on this proposed move for Jones and he thinks it will be difficult. This is what Williamson had to say: “Clearly, he has speed, but cornerbacks spend a ton of time backpedaling and flipping their hips in transition, as well as reading routes. Sounds like desperation to me.”

Big names on the way out in Oakland?

December, 11, 2012
The Oakland Raiders are 3-10 and they will likely look to get both younger and cheaper in 2013. Thus, after a big year of change in 2012, we may be seeing more change in Oakland soon.

Richard Seymour is preparing for what will likely be his final few weeks with the Raiders. He’s a free agent and the Raiders will likely try to get younger.

Punter Shane Lechler may be in the same boat. Lecher is 36 and has showed some signs of slowing down this season. I’m not sure the Raiders will be willing to pay premium punter money with a tight budget and many other needs to fill. The team may want to develop Marquette King, a strong-footed punter who is on the injured reserve.

Meanwhile, Oakland running back Taiwan Jones is open to a position change to cornerback. Jones has become a forgotten man in Oakland’s offensive backfield. He has six carries for 21 yards. Still, it will be up to the team’s brass if it is open to making that switch. Oakland’s previous regime drafted the speedy Jones in the fourth round last year to make an impact on offense. It has yet to happen.

In other AFC West news:

Branden Albert out for Chiefs

November, 25, 2012
The Kansas City Chiefs will be without left tackle Branden Albert on Sunday against the Denver Broncos, and their dynamic pass-rush.

Albert has a back injury that forced him to leave last week’s game. He was doubtful to play Sunday. Rookie Donald Stephenson will start for Albert and he will have to deal with Denver star pass-rusher Von Miller, who has 13 sacks. The Chiefs did get some good news. Center Ryan Lilja (knee) will play Sunday, after missing last week’s game.

In a less-impactful decision, but an interesting one, receiver Jamar Newsome is active, a day after being promoted from the practice squad. He is active over veteran Steve Breaston, a former key cog in this offense, and fourth-round pick Devon Wylie. The Chiefs cut offensive lineman Rich Ranglin to make room for Newsome.

For Denver, cornerback Tracy Porter is inactive for the sixth straight game. He was probable after practicing this past week, but will not be on the field Sunday.

In other AFC West news:

Oakland backup running back Taiwan Jones, who was questionable with an ankle injury, is active in Cincinnati. Oakland needs Jones because of major injuries at the position.

As expected, the Raiders promoted linebacker Kaelin Burnett from practice squad. He fills spot left open by the release of linebacker Aaron Curry.

Also as expected, San Diego promoted tackle Kevin Haslam from the practice squad. He took the place of left tackle Jared Gaither, who went on the injured reserve Friday.

Raiders to be without McFadden again

November, 23, 2012
A tough season for Oakland running back Darren McFadden continues to get more difficult.

As expected, McFadden has been ruled out for Sunday’s game at Cincinnati. It will be the third straight game McFadden will miss because of a high ankle sprain. McFadden has missed at least three games in all four of his previous NFL seasons. McFadden has 455 yards and is averaging 3.3 yards per carry this season.

He is struggling as Oakland has used the zone-blocking scheme in the primary run attack. McFadden excelled in the power-blocking scheme Oakland's previous regime used.

The Raiders’ injury issues at running back extend beyond McFadden. His backup, Mike Goodson, will also miss his third straight game with a high ankle sprain. Reserve running back Taiwan Jones is questionable with an ankle injury. Expect a heavy dose of fullback Marcel Reece. He had 193 yards of combined rushing and receiving yardage last week.

Meanwhile, defensive tackle Richard Seymour will miss his third straight game with knee and hamstring issues. Safety Tyvon Branch is probable to play at Cincinnati after he missed last week’s game with a neck injury.

Meanwhile, how fired up are Cincinnati fans for Carson Palmer’s return Sunday? Apparently not that much. Its home game against Oakland is not sold out and it will be blacked out on local television