By Eddie Paskal
Making a position change is one of the hardest transitions to make in all of sports. That transition is even more challenging when it takes place in the National Football League and the shift in question requires changing sides of the ball from offense to defense. However, that is exactly what third-year player Taiwan Jones has done on two occasions this season, all the while excelling in the third phase of the game, special teams.
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Originally selected by the Raiders in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft as a running back, Jones played in 10 games his rookie season and carried the ball 16 times for the Oakland offense. In his second year, the Antioch, Calif., native appeared in 14 games for the Silver and Black and had six offensive carries for a total of 21 yards.
Prior to his third season as a Raider, though, the former Eastern Washington Eagle was asked to make the change from running back to cornerback, a transition he initially met with hesitation but eventually bought into wholeheartedly.
Later in the 2013 campaign, Jones was asked to return to the running back position when injuries decimated the Raiders’ backfield. The multi-purpose standout transitioned back into the offense seamlessly and has emerged as a valuable pass-catcher out of the backfield.
As valuable as an asset as Jones can be on either offense or defense, where Jones really shines for the Raiders is on special teams, both as a kick returner and on coverage teams.
During the first two years of his career, Jones was a standout on the coverage unit, leading the team with 12 tackles last year and posting seven stops in his rookie campaign. This year, the special teams ace has raised his play on the coverage team once again and is performing at a Pro Bowl level, leading the team with 12 special-teams tackles and one forced fumble through Week 15.
Additionally, Jones has emerged as the team’s primary option as a kick returner, registering 24 returns for 572 yards (23.8 avg.).
Jones’ excellence on special teams is something that has not escaped the eye of second-year head coach Dennis Allen, who has heaped praise upon the eltite specialist.
“I think Taiwan Jones is, if he’s not the best special teams player in the league, he’s one of the best special teams players in the league,” said Allen. “He’s a difference maker in all of our coverage units.”
Hearing the supportive words from his head is something that fuels Jones to continue his pursuit of excellence on the coverage team.
“When you hear a guy like your head coach speak about you, it makes you want to play that much better,” Jones said. “When he’s praising you, you have to be able to back it up. Just hearing him notice what I’m doing out there makes me want to work that much harder.”
As the 2013 season has progressed, Jones has emerged as a Pro Bowl candidate on special teams. Asked what it would mean to be named to the 2013 Pro Bowl to not just him but also for the team, Jones said, “It would mean a lot. Yeah, it would be me going to the Pro Bowl, but it’s just a reflection of what we’re doing as a unit and I know it would mean a lot to me because it just means everybody else is taking notice of what I’m doing out there.”