NAPA, Calif. – Taiwan Jones' NFL career got off to a slow start when a variety of injuries and the inability to hold onto the ball kept him off the field for much of his first two seasons with the Oakland Raiders.
Now the former running back with sprinter's speed is getting a second chance at establishing himself as an NFL player following a position switch to cornerback.
While his coverage skills are still a bit raw after not playing cornerback since his freshman year at Eastern Washington, Jones still has that blazing speed that tantalized the Raiders those last two years. Combined with his stellar coverage skills on special teams, Jones is making a strong bid to make the team at a second position.
"I'm still just happy to be on the roster," Jones said. "Whatever I can do to help the team and if I can help the team on defense then I'm willing to do it. I was kind of upset that 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 was drafted by the Raiders in the fourth round in 2011 after rushing for 2,955 yards and 7.7 yards per carry and scoring 36 touchdowns in two seasons as a running back at Eastern Washington.
Those gaudy statistics, a 4.33 second 40-yard dash before the draft and the fact Jones is a Bay Area native made him a fan favorite but it never translated to success on the field.
A variety of minor injuries and a propensity to fumble in the preseason made it hard for Jones to earn the trust of his coaches. He had 22 rushes for 94 yards, four catches for 36 yards and 10 kick returns for 187 yards in 24 games and never made it into the end zone.
That led to the position switch in the offseason and the Raiders are hoping Jones proves better at preventing touchdowns than he did at scoring them.
He hasn't quite gotten to that point yet despite allowing just three catches on seven throws his direction so far in the preseason, according to Pro Football Focus. But he also committed a long pass interference penalty.
"I kind of panicked and I tried to slow him down a little bit," he said. "I made it a little obvious. I should have waited until I was a step closer."
Cornerback isn't completely new for Jones, who was given a scholarship to play cornerback in college but made the switch to offense his second season. But his college coaches thought he'd be converted back to cornerback in the NFL and Jones was prepared for the switch when it happened.
Now he has two more preseason games to show he should stick there when the season starts.
"He's as athletic as anybody you'll ever see on the football field but it's different," teammate Charles Woodson said. "It's different from offense to defense and learning a new position and them expecting you to just be able to do it. That's hard for a young guy like him just to be expected to be able to do it. He's shown some great things but you don't have a lot of time to get it right. With him if he had more time I'd feel like eventually he'd get it. We'll see what happens."
One aspect of his game that doesn't need much work is special teams. With his blazing speed and nose for the ball, Jones was one of the top performers on coverage units for Oakland last season as a gunner on punts and the first man down on kickoffs, recording 11 tackles.
That ability will help him as he tries to make the roster.
"His major value for this football team right now is as a special teams player and I think he's proven that the first two preseason games," coach Dennis Allen said. "We'll continue to work him there and continue to try to get him better at corner."
NOTES: Hayden wore a black jersey instead of the red non-contact one for the first time since offseason surgery. Hayden will have his first contact since November when the team practices in pads on Monday. ... RB Darren McFadden was limited by a shoulder injury but Allen said he does not believe the injury will keep him from playing Friday against Chicago.