Oakland hopes fleet Jones is fast learner

Published: Monday, Aug. 19, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3C
Last Modified: Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013 - 11:04 am

NAPA – Taiwan Jones' NFL career got off to a slow start when a variety of injuries and the inability to hold onto the ball kept him off the field for much of his first two seasons with the Raiders.

Now the former running back with sprinter's speed is getting a second chance at establishing himself as an NFL player following a switch to cornerback.

While his coverage skills are still a bit raw after not playing cornerback since his freshman year at Eastern Washington, Jones still has the blazing speed that tantalized the Raiders those last two years.

Combined with his stellar coverage skills on special teams, Jones is making a strong bid to make the team at a second position.

"I'm still just happy to be on the roster," Jones said. "If I can help the team on defense, I'm willing to do it. I was kind of upset that I couldn't show everybody what kind of running back I could be, but I think it's a good thing as far as my career."

Jones was drafted by the Raiders in the fourth round in 2011 after rushing for 2,955 yards (7.7 average) and scoring 36 touchdowns in two seasons at Eastern Washington.

Those gaudy statistics, a 4.33-second 40-yard dash before the draft and the fact Jones is a Bay Area native made him a fan favorite, but it never translated to success on the field.

A variety of minor injuries and a propensity to fumble in the preseason made it hard for Jones to earn the trust of his coaches.

He had 22 rushes for 94 yards, four catches for 36 yards and 10 kick returns for 187 yards in 24 games but never made it into the end zone.

That led to the position switch in the offseason, and the Raiders hope Jones proves better at preventing touchdowns than he did at scoring them. He hasn't quite reached that point yet despite allowing just three catches on seven throws in his direction so far in the preseason, according to Pro Football Focus. But he also committed a long pass-interference penalty.

Jones was given a scholarship to play cornerback in college but switched to offense in his second season. His college coaches thought he'd be converted back to cornerback in the NFL, and Jones was prepared for the switch when it happened.

Now he has two more preseason games to show he should stick there when the season starts.

"He's as athletic as anybody you'll ever see on the football field, but it's different," teammate Charles Woodson said. "It's different from offense to defense and learning a new position and them expecting you to just be able to do it. That's hard for a young guy like him."

Notes – Rookie cornerback D.J. Hayden wore a black jersey instead of the red non-contact one for the first time since offseason surgery. He will have his first contact since November when the team practices in pads today.

• Running back Darren McFadden was limited by a shoulder injury but coach Dennis Allen said the injury shouldn't keep him from playing Friday against Chicago.

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