- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 25, 2015

ASHBURN — After Matt Jones fumbled for the fourth time this season, Chris Thompson let the rookie running back have his space.

During the second quarter of the Washington Redskins’ 44-16 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, Jones swooped to the left edge on a two-yard gain and tried to hurdle a defender. As Jones jumped, middle linebacker Luke Keuchly tackled him and jarred the ball loose and the Panthers recovered it at the Washington 24-yard line.

Thompson could see Jones‘ frustration festering with each yard the Panthers gained. Six plays later, Carolina scored a touchdown to take a 28-14 lead.

“I didn’t bother him because I know how bad it feels during the game,” Thompson said. “We watched the film, and we could see how much it affected him. His body language — stuff he never made mistakes on started bothering him, his eye-progression on some looks. You could just tell it was eating at him so much. It’s a thin line because you want those type of guys on your team, not somebody that messes up and is like, ‘Whatever, it’s OK,’ but you also have to find that point where you can move on from it and that’s what he’s trying to learn.”

The Redskins’ coaching staff loves how hard Jones runs, the way he uses his 6-foot-1, 231-pound frame to batter opposing tacklers. Once Jones gets into the open field he runs with unsuspecting speed, which was on full display during his 78-yard touchdown reception in the team’s 47-14 win against the New Orleans Saints.

Ten games into his rookie season, Jones has run for 332 yards and three touchdowns on 90 carries.

It is the fumbling that is concerning, though, as well as the way in which Jones is losing the football. He protects the ball well when he attacks the line of scrimmage, but is not so careful once he is in open space. In Week 3 against the New York Giants, Jones fumbled as he was going into the end zone. As Jones jumped to reach for the pylon, cornerback Trevin Wade swiped at the ball and knocked it away.

“I think if you’re putting the ball on the ground, then something has to change,” coach Jay Gruden said. “You better change or you won’t be getting the ball. Everybody wants to hand the ball off around here, but if you hand the ball off to a guy who fumbles four times, you know, it’s a little scary for a coordinator or coach to call those runs. I think he’s got to just continue to protect the ball.

“A lot of those are non-contact, where if he makes contact he protects the ball very well. It’s when he’s out in space and he has non-contact that he can’t see, those are the ones that poke him. So, he’s got to do a good job of protecting the ball at all times, and I think he will, man. He’s taken a pretty hard beating from [running backs coach Randy] Jordan and everybody else around here about his ball security issues.

“He’s a good kid, he wants to do well, he’s running very, very hard. We love that about him, but we do know that he has to make sure he keeps it high and tight at all times and protects it in traffic.”

Jones did not speak with reporters after Sunday’s loss to Carolina and declined to speak after Wednesday’s practice.

Thompson also fumbled against Carolina when he failed to get low enough and secure the ball as he passed the Panthers’ Thomas Davis. The outside linebacker knocked it loose, but right tackle Morgan Moses recovered it.

Jordan routinely emphasizes ball security during individual drills, but did so even more on Wednesday. During one of the drills, a running back had to duck under a bar and on the other side, a teammate was waiting to whack him with a blocking pad.

As Jones continues to work on his ball security, Thompson has been careful not to interfere. Once Jones finally wanted to talk about it, Thompson reminded him that there is still plenty of time to correct the issue.

“I said, ‘Hey, you’re a young guy and I understand that it’s bothering you, but we got to find a way to move on from this,’” Thompson said. “‘This is not the end for you. You’ve got six more weeks. Let’s not have any more fumbles from here on out so you won’t have that label that you can’t hold onto the ball.’

“That’s the worst thing for a running back to have. It’s just one of those things, you have to be patient with him.”

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