The Raiders went into this season looking for help at cornerback.
Now it turns out that some help might have been sitting on the bench all along, wearing No. 22 in silver and black.
Recently, running back Taiwan Jones and the team announced that the swift Jones will switch to cornerback for the 2013 season.
Does that mean that Oakland can suddenly shift its focus off defensive backs at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis? No chance.
The Raiders still need Grade A talent at a position that was so degraded in 2012 that veteran safety Michael Huff needed to fill in at one corner when both starters were injured.
Finding a good young corner (or two) in the draft or a reasonably priced veteran (or two) in free agency is still a priority for general manager Reggie McKenzie.
As Steve Corkran of the Bay Area News Group noted Monday, when writing about the Raiders’ needs at cornerback: “It’s likely the starting cornerbacks for the Raiders next season aren’t even on the roster yet. This position has to be addressed.”
As far as top-echelon cornerback talent available in the draft this offseason, Jonathan Banks of Mississippi State, DeMarcus Milliner of Alabama, Desmond Trufant of Washington, Xavier Rhodes of Clemson and Logan Ryan of Rutgers are ranked among the best.
There’s no way to know yet if Jones’ position switch will be successful, or if Jones is destined to be a role player and special teams standout or become good enough to be a difference-maker in the secondary.
But with Jones’ quickness and speed, the news suddenly makes for a nice storyline going into the offseason. If Jones can have some success at his new position, he could give the Raiders some depth.
“I think it fits his skill set,” McKenzie told ESPN at the Combine, noting that when he worked for Green Bay, he had Jones projected as a cornerback in the NFL. “I think we’re going to see how he does there.”
Jones is not a complete stranger to the position, having played it in high school and being recruited as a cornerback to Eastern Washington. And, according to Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle, Jones talked in December of possibly making the switch.
“I’ve thought about it a lot,” Jones told Tafur. “Really, I just love playing football. If they need me to play defense, I think I’d be pretty happy with that.”
Jones has excellent speed (a 4.33 40-yard time at the 2011 Combine) and reportedly has shown good tackling skills while working on the Raiders’ special teams.
His hands, though, have reportedly been a problem to working Jones into the offensive rotation. Raiders coaches have been quoted as saying Jones in practice has had trouble holding on to the ball.
McKenzie told ESPN that it won’t be an easy switch for Jones to make, but believes he can do it. McKenzie said he’s hopeful Jones could develop into a nickel cornerback.
In 2008, as a redshirt freshman at Eastern Washington, Jones started four games at corner, had one game with 15 tackles and also blocked two kicks that season.
Jones sounds eager to play and make an impact for the Raiders.
"That's what I got my scholarship for in college was to play corner," he told Tafur. "I played my first year at corner and I didn't switch (to running back) until we had four senior running backs graduating. That's when they asked me to change over."