When the Raiders asked Taiwan Jones to move from running back to cornerback in February, there was a dual purpose.
First, general manager Reggie McKenzie noted that Jones’ “skill set” best suited the cornerback position.
Second, the Raiders were in desperate need of help in the secondary.
Three months later, however, McKenzie has remade the secondary, adding free-agent cornerbacks Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins, free-agent safeties Usama Young and Charles Woodson and using his top draft choice for cornerback D.J. Hayden.
Now, Jones’ chances of making the Raiders as a reserve cornerback seem much longer than they once did. Though Jones has explosive speed and played cornerback in college before shifting to offense, he’s obviously rusty and less experienced at his new job than any of the other cornerbacks now in camp for Oakland’s organized team activities (OTAs) that began this week.
Jones, in fact, told reporters after his first OTA session on the other side of the ball that he felt as if he were starting over.
“I do,” he said. “When I first came out, things were going pretty fast for me, but towards the end, I started to feel comfortable as I started seeing more plays and getting more reps.”
Jones admits that he’s excited about the position switch. Before OTAs began, he says he spent a lot of time studying the playbook and watching film. He was glad to finally be out on the field to test himself against other players.
“It was good to go out there and have live receivers running at you,” he said.
As a backup running back, Jones has been a contributor on kick- and punt-coverage teams his first two seasons in the NFL. Head coach Dennis Allen noticed Jones’ tackling ability, knew his background as a cornerback at Eastern Washington – where he was recruited as a defensive back – and suggested to Jones in February that he make the switch.
At first, Jones says he wasn’t interested. He loved playing running back. Now he says he’s fine with the switch and will do whatever he can to make the roster and help the team. He certainly wasn’t getting many opportunities to carry the football. Last season, even with injuries to the team’s top two running backs, Jones was given little opportunity to run the ball, in part because it was reported Jones had fumbling issues in practice.
Now, Jones believes his best opportunity to stick in the NFL may be as a corner.
“As far as my career, it will probably be a good move,” he said. “I feel like I’ll last longer health-wise there and I can help the team out more there. Like I said, whatever the team needs me to do, I’m ready to do it.”
With all the new talent on board, however, Jones will have to make quick progress.
As Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle tweeted Monday after the first OTA session: “Former RB Taiwan Jones has a steep uphill climb to make roster as a CB.”