By Dan Roth, special to Breaking Burgundy
Matt Jones watched the final three games of his promising rookie season in street clothes, including the Washington Redskins playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers. No, the running back wasn't benched for his fumble problems or replaced for more experienced options. The University of Florida product was hampered by a hip pointer, an injury that limited his cutting ability on the field. There's a saying that from pain comes strength. For Jones, an NFL season filled with various bumps and bruises brought him knowledge. With his violent running style, the importance of body preservation became perhaps the most valuable lesson of all.
In a league notorious for its bone crushing collisions, body preservation is a must for any player striving to stick around. What exactly that entails, however, can differ by position. From college to the pros, one adjustment stood out as particularly critical for Jones.
“Just with [shoulder] pad level, man,” Jones said. “Learning how to get my pad level down. That was one of my biggest things. I was just giving my body up sometimes.
Good balance hinges on not just the lower but also on the upper body. Keeping the shoulders low helps players maintain a lower center of gravity, making them less susceptible to getting bowled over by the human wrecking balls on the other side of the line of scrimmage. It’s an important aspect that permeates every level of football, but at the game’s highest level, defenders can exploit even the most infinitesimal flaw in a runner’s technique.
“I’m not taking nothing from anybody who runs hard,” Jones said. “You’ve got to also protect yourself because you can be out on one of them plays trying to run so hard and people are taking shots at you that you don’t even [see coming].”
Jones is far from the only rookie that entered the league with flaws in his technique. Many of the best running backs that college football has to offer bring imperfections to the next level, whether it’s in their running posture, ball carrying, planting and cutting, the way they hit a hole, etc.
These flaws don’t necessarily expose themselves, however, until players enter the NFL. They can be masked by the superior talent and athleticism possessed by the majority of college players that go on to play at the next level. It’s important to fix them in order to not only play well but also stay healthy in the NFL, which is something Jones learned the hard way.
“It’s definitely rough out there,” Jones said. “People are going to take a shot whenever they see your body open up.”
Jones finished the season with an unimpressive 3.4 yards per carry on 144 attempts, but showed lead back flashes at times as both a runner and receiver. He gashed the Rams in Week 2 for 123 rush yards and two touchdowns and tallied 187 yards from scrimmage in a mid-season win over the Saints. With free agent Alfred Morris entering free agency, Jones could enter next season as Washington's main running back. With that role, the Redskins will need him on the field plenty, which means they need Jones to learn the body preservation lesson.
Dan Roth is a freelance sportswriter and Breaking Burgundy contributor. Follow Dan on Twitter @danrothdc.
To get instant Redskins notifications, download the NEW Scout mobile app for iOS HERE!
Be sure to check out the ever-growing benefit package of being a Breaking Burgundy Insider! Check it out HERE.