One of the more difficult things to do for any player is to make a position change at the NFL level; especially when switching sides of the ball. Most players are drafted at a particular position and sink or swim at that same position and that's it.
Taiwan Jones was drafted by the Raiders to play running back, was informed that his best chance of making this Raiders team would be with a switch to cornerback. And thus he has been given the rare chance to prove he can do what few others have done. He's not squandering the opportunity.
"I was just excited to still be on a roster," said Jones. "Whatever I can do to help the team. If I can help the team on defense then I'm willing to do it. I was kind of upset 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 has been written off by most people. His seemingly peculiar position change appears from the outside like writing on the wall for the end of his career with the Raiders. But this is no ordinary position change. This one could actually be a switch to a position Jones was meant to play in the first place.
"A lot of my college coaches, they thought once I made it to the NFL that I would be converted to a corner," said Jones. "So, that's kind of my mindset and what I thought also. So, when I got drafted as a running back, it came to me somewhat as a surprise."
The reason he and his college coaches saw him as a corner is because he played both corner and running back in high school. His speed (4.33 40-yard dash) and physique (6-0, 194 pounds) are also more in line with that of a cornerback as well.
Even so, the third year back is coming off taking a two-year detour as a running back and has had to re-learn and recall his cornerback skills which he hadn't put into full use for quite some time. That transition back from offense to defense at the highest level is a long and difficult one.
Watching Jones in OTA's and minicamp and even the first few days of training camp, he was an afterthought. He wasn't making plays and the only time you saw him is when his man was catching the ball. Then suddenly, in the past few days, he began showing up on the radar. As of Sunday, his penchant for finding the ball and tracking receivers is officially no longer unnoticed.
"On defense it's all about reacting and that's one thing I'm pretty good at," said Jones. "It's coming pretty easy. I still got a lot of work to do though. . . Every day I'm learning something new. Some stuff I knew before and it's like ‘Oh, ok now I get it, now I see what you're talking about'. Actually being out there getting the reps and being out there with the guys, I'm learning something every day."
For proof that Jones speaks the truth, you need only watch him in practice. Four days ago in practice, he had a terrible session in which he gave up three long passes including two in a row to Greg Jenkins for touchdowns.
The very next day he turned things around. He has had two interceptions in two days of practice working with the third team and today, with starters Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins sitting out with injury, he was given an opportunity to work with the second team and impressed even still. He had a very nice pass defended in which he left his man on the outside to dive full extension in front of a Terrelle Pryor pass inside and knocked it down.
What it adds up to is some fresh competition at cornerback from an unlikely place. There is now some fierce competition for the final spot or two in the cornerback roster. Taiwan is earning the right to be viewed as a legitimate contender for that spot. And when you consider his dual threat as a special teams gunner, he might just be ahead of the pack for that spot. Didn't think you'd be hearing that at any point this camp, did ya?
After writing him off, you should probably go ahead and pencil him back in.