Oakland Raiders: 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.

Branch returns; no sign of McFadden

December, 4, 2013
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Strong safety Tyvon Branch was practicing Wednesday with the Oakland Raiders for the first time since breaking his right leg against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sept. 15.

Running back Darren McFadden, though, was not on the practice field, fueling speculation that he aggravated his troubled right hamstring. Neither was running back Jeremy Stewart, who suffered knee and ankle injuries on Thanksgiving at the Dallas Cowboys.

And while Rashad Jennings was back after suffering a concussion against the Cowboys, converted cornerback/gunner Taiwan Jones was getting reps at running back.

Also, receiver Denarius Moore, who has missed the past two games with a shoulder injury, was not practicing. Right guard Mike Brisiel, who injured a knee on the Raiders’ first play at Dallas, was an observer.

Cornerback Mike Jenkins (concussion) was practicing but safety Usama Young (stinger) was not seen.

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.