Going into the Raiders’ exhibition game against the Lions this past Saturday night, Taiwan Jones felt rusty, yet ready.
A hamstring injury had kept him off the field and out of the Raiders’ first two preseason games, and the second-year running back knew he needed to make his case for winning the job as primary backup to Darren McFadden.
“It’s real important for me (to play),” Jones told reporters last week after being cleared to practice and play. “I haven’t played a game since last year, so I’m excited and I can’t wait to get the feel for it and get my reps with the ones or twos, of wherever it may be. I’m just excited to be back.”
Jones then went out against the Lions and looked sharp, carrying 10 times for 50 yards and showing the speed and burst that excited the Raiders’ coaching staff last season.
Now, playing for new head coach Dennis Allen and his staff, Jones again picked up some disciples.
“He did some nice things,” Allen told Matt Kawahara of the Sacramento Bee. “He was explosive. … That’s one of the things that he gives you is he does have some real speed, so his ability to get on the edges is good for us.”
With Michael Bush now gone, having signed with the Bears as a free agent, the No. 2 running back spot is up for grabs, a battle between Jones and Mike Goodson. Goodson looked good early in camp, but then was slowed by an injury and then fumbled twice in a loss to Arizona on Aug. 17. Against Detroit, Goodson carried seven times for 18 yards.
With just one preseason game remaining, Thursday night against the Seahawks, it appears Jones has the edge to win the No. 2 job.
Though he’s a small package – just 6-feet and 197 pounds – the fourth-round pick in 2011 out of Eastern Washington has tremendous speed and a year of limited experience.
Last season in 10 games, Jones carried just 16 times for 73 yards and caught two passes for 25 yards and didn’t fumble.
For Jones, just getting back on the field and feeling fit, fast and healthy again is a kick.
“Once the game starts, you aren’t really thinking about anything,” Jones told reporters. “You just got to go out there and have fun. And if you play loose and have fun, then that stuff (past injuries) doesn’t matter.”
Goodson, meanwhile, can still earn a roster spot as the No. 3 running back and as a special teams contributor. Injuries and a propensity for fumbling in past seasons at Carolina – seven in three seasons -- have dogged him, however.
Goodson played three seasons in Carolina before being acquired by the Raiders in a trade from the Panthers this offseason. Goodson’s best year was in 2010, when he carried 103 times for 452 yards and three TDs, while also catching 40 passes. He also has been a very good kickoff returner. In 2010, he averaged 21.8 yards on 48 kick returns, with four going for more than 40 yards.