When Taiwan Jones began running around Raiders defenders in the summer training camp of 2011, former Oakland head coach Hue Jackson loved what he saw.
Though Jones did his thing in college away from the national media at small-school Eastern Washington, he always had been an electric, explosive and multipurpose back. His senior year, he rushed for 1,742 yards and 14 touchdowns and was a first-team All-America pick in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Immediately, Jackson was a believer.
“God, can this guy run,” Jackson said. “He’s extremely fast, but he’s very nimble and very smooth. For a guy that’s built like he is (6 feet, 195 pounds), he’s very physical.”
But for the better part of a season and a half, Jones has either been buried on the depth chart behind Darren McFadden and Michael Bush, or has dealt with injuries, as he did this preseason.
His career stat line: 17 carries for 75 yards and three catches for 29.
Now, however, Raiders fans – and his teammates – might get a chance to see his coming-out party this Sunday in Baltimore against the Ravens.
With McFadden and No. 1 backup Mike Goodson both trying to rebound from ankle injuries suffered in last week’s loss to Tampa Bay – both were unable to practice Wednesday – Jones and fullback Marcel Reece were taking reps at tailback.
“I’m definitely excited,” Jones told Steve Corkran of the Bay Area News Group. “There’s definitely an opportunity for me to extend my role on the team. I’m getting an opportunity, so I want to make the most of it.”
So far in 2012, Jones mostly has contributed on special teams. Quarterback Carson Palmer – who’s been watching him perform in practice every day – is eager to see what he can do carrying the ball and catching it.
“I feel like I’ve been waiting forever,” Palmer told Corkran of the chance to see Jones in the lineup. “I can’t wait. He does amazing things in practice and he’s by far the fastest person on the field and he will be the fastest person on the field on Sunday. …
“He’ll get his touches, and I can’t wait. He’s so electrifying. He puts his foot in the ground and goes. He wiggles out of hits, he wiggles out of tackles. Can’t wait to throw him the ball, get him in the open field.”
The knocks on Jones have been that he’s injury prone and mistake-prone. Head coach Dennis Allen said Wednesday that Jones has “been a little up and down.”
But, if Jones shows the talent he displayed when he played in the preseason in his rookie year – when Raiders fans saw his breakaway speed – he could be the silver lining to the black cloud of injuries to McFadden and Goodson.
“It’s been kind of tough to evaluate (him) because he’s missed some time,” Allen told reporters Wednesday. “But we’ve got confidence in Taiwan and if he’s called on to step in and play, then we fully anticipate him stepping in.”