It's hard to believe a running back who has played in 45 games over 5 NFL seasons would have never scored a touchdown before. Such was the case for Taiwan Jones coming into the Raiders' week 7 match-up with the New York Jets.
To be fair, this former fourth round running back had spent the 2013 season as a cornerback and missed all but one game last season due to injury.
This season when the old coaching staff was ousted and the new one came in, they decided having Jones at reserve cornerback and gunner was wasting a lot of game breaking talents. So, they switched him back to running back and gave him back the return duties he had lost a couple years ago due to ball security concerns.
In a week three win over the Browns, after carrying the ball two times for 16 yards (8.0 yards per carry) Jones went out injured. The following week, they missed his part of the offense, and even once appeared to try and run a pitch play with Latavius Murray which was designed with Taiwan in mind and the play had disastrous results. Murray fumbled the pitch and the Bears recovered. It contributed to a tough loss by the Raiders.
He returned last week against the Chargers and immediately made the coaches look pretty smart to use his 4.28 speed on offense. In that game, Jones carried the ball 3 times for 35 yards (11.67 yards per carry) and added a couple catches for 17 yards and a kick return for 32 yards.
This week, Taiwan did most of his damage on one play. It was a short pass at the line which he broke at least three tackles, stopped and started, and juked, and ultimately sprinted for a 59-yard touchdown.
"Once I caught that ball, I turned around. I think it was the linebacker coming inside. Part of me thought to cut it back, but I was lie, ‘You know what, I'm going to go.' Once I hit that gear, I was gone. Like I said, instincts kicked in and I was like, ‘I'm going to make a cut back.' I felt good after that."
His quarterback went through the same range of emotion I think most people went through when Taiwan initially caught the short pass.
"I was like ‘OK, they played it well. Get the completion. Oh... Oh... Oh!' And after that as soon as I saw no one bounce back there, there's no one catching him."
It was the first career touchdown for the East Bay native. It was also the longest catch of his career. He also added a 41-yard kick return which was his longest of the season.
After the game, Jack Del Rio said just what it was that had the Raiders' offensive staff making sure to get the ball in Taiwan Jones' hands.
"Explosive speed." Del Rio said. "He's a talented young man. I believe it was Eastern Washington that he came out of. He did some unbelievable things there with the ball in his hands. Really wanted to have our offense, we're looking for explosive play makers, he is one. Jumped at the opportunity. Told him early ‘Hey, we're going to move you and we believe you can really be an asset for us. We're not just moving you to find a spot, we're moving you because we think you can really contribute.' And he's done a great job. I think as time has gone on, he's become more of a believer that we really do believe in him. As a football team, that's the number one thing for us, is just to believe. The work that we're putting in gives us a chance to play really good football. We're seeing some of that. Some of the fruits of the work of the effort that goes in. . . his confidence is growing, he has amazing talent and we're going to continue to utilize him."
I asked Taiwan what it means to him when his coach says that he is becoming a believer.
"I think what it means is everybody is starting to see what I can do. If there's one thing, I've always believed in this team year in and year out. I've been telling everybody, I want to be part of this turnaround with Del Rio. You're starting to see this team turning around. I've always been a believer. It's just my job to show everybody else that on Sunday."
"I tip my hat to this coaching staff. They put a lot of trust in me. They see what Al Davis saw. It's just my job to show the fans what Al Davis saw in me."
While Taiwan is making the current staff look like geniuses, he is proving yet again just how lost the previous staff was with regard to utilizing the talent on their roster. At least they had to sense to keep him around and use his speed for something. It just happened to be as a gunner trying to stop players from making explosive plays instead of more appropriately being given the ball and the opportunity to make explosive plays of his own.