Photo by Tony Gonzales
The Oakland Raiders signed cornerback and special teams' standout Taiwan Jones to a three-year contract extension. Jones, drafted in the 4th round of the 2011 NFL Draft out of Eastern Washington, began his NFL career as a running back. At the start of the 2013 season, Head Coach Dennis Allen and his staff converted the third-year player into a cornerback. As he adjusted to his new position, Jones solidified his role on special teams, becoming one of the elite specialists in the league.
Jones finished the season with a team-high 14 special teams tackles. Even when he didn't make the tackle, he had a role in one of his teammates bringing down the kick or punt returner. He made an impression on his special teams coach and on his teammates. And he seemingly made an impression on General Manager Reggie McKenzie, who extended Jones' agreement through the 2017 season.
Special Teams Coordinator Bobby April was impressed by not only Jones' production on the field, but also his hard work. "His production on the field is the first thing that shows," said Coach April. "But I think he brings a lot to the table because there's a lot of integrity to hard work and he really works hard. Whenever your best player is your hardest worker you have an opportunity to raise the culture, raise the organization, raise the talent of all. Because mental talent is talent too and he's got that. He's got that inner grit. He's got that determination to play well, to do well."
Coach April was proud the Raiders organization chose to reward Jones' hard work. "I think for him to have been rewarded for his effort is a great thing for him; it's a great thing for everybody in the organization to strive for," said Coach April. "And the statement that the organization would do that gives everybody the incentive to grow."
His determination on every play made Jones a Pro-Bowl caliber special teamer and gave the Raiders the opportunity to change the course of the game through their special teams. "When we win those 30 [special teams] plays a game, which he's a huge factor in doing, that 20 percent of the game gives our whole organization a greater chance to win," explained Coach April. "He's a key ingredient to our organization winning."
Jones' work ethic and success on the field is noticed by his teammates. "Taiwan is an explosive playmaker who makes plays all over the field," said LS Jon Condo. "He sets the bar high as a core player, which challenges his teammates to perform at his level."
Jones' partner-in-crime on special teams, CB Chimdi Chekwa, recognizes the type of skill Jones possesses. "Taiwan plays the game at a different speed than most," said Chekwa. "He's been blessed with unique athletic ability. But he matches that with persistence and tenacity. He would run full speed through a wall. He's also a very unselfish individual. Those qualities make up a great teammate."
Another staple on special teams early in the season, RB Rashad Jennings, saw Jones demonstrate his abilities each time he took the field. "As a player, Taiwan is explosive," said Jennings. "It's the first thing that comes to mind. Every time I watch him, he's explosive, he's physical. He's a hard-nosed player. He shows up everywhere. He's a hard hitter. And again, the first thing that comes to mind is explosive. He has a burst like no other."
Jones is a team guy and the type of presence the Raiders want in the locker room. "As a teammate, he's a good energy to be around," said Jennings. "He's going to work hard. He takes his job serious because he wants to be a better player and contribute to the team any way he can. He's the kind of person you want on the team."
Condo is looking forward to playing alongside Jones long-term. "I'm excited for him and the Raiders," said Condo. "Taiwan is a game changer on special teams and I'm happy to be lining up on the same side of the ball as him. He is an unbelievable guy on and off the field and his presence without a doubt makes a stronger squad."
Coach April was pleased to see how excited Jones was to sign the contract extension. "He was really happy; I could see there was a real positive presence to how he was. For me, that supersedes everything," said Coach April. "To see how happy he was, I didn't care about anything else in that moment. I was really happy for him in the way he felt about it."
Jones has the qualities Coach April looks for in his players. "When we evaluate, I think it's critical that we evaluate the person more than we evaluate the player because the person will grow and the player will grow. If he's just a player and the personal attributes are not there, he's probably not going to grow. So I think [Jones] brings all those qualities. That's why it's important that we have him, for the organization, for him, for the special teams. I think it was a wise move."
As Jones heads into his fourth season in the NFL and as a member of the Raiders, he has the support of the organization, his coaches and his teammates.
He hopes to continue to make an impression on special teams, help his team to more wins and represent the Raiders as a Pro Bowler in the future.