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Biggest key to Bucs rookie RB Ronald Jones staying on field?

Florida Football Insiders

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Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

There is a lot of optimism in the Buccaneers backfield for 2018. Third year back Peyton Barber has worked hard, waited his turn, and is set to be the featured back, as 2018 begins.

And, then there’s explosive USC rookie Ronald Jones.

Taken in the second round of April’s draft, Bucs fans and observers are anxious to see if his speed and big play capabilities from the Trojans and Pac 12 play are going to translate into NFL Sundays. If they do, Tampa Bay will have a dimension to their offensive attack that has been missing for a long time.

However, there’s something equally as important that’s going to help Jones stay on the field more, as his rookie season unfolds.

And, it’s not flashy.

And it more than likely won’t end up on the highlights on NFL Network or ESPN.

It’s called pass protection or “pass pro,” in present day football lingo.

For years, one of the biggest stumbling blocks for incoming first year players in the backfield is the inability to know their blocking assignments, pick up that blitzing linebacker or safety, etc.

In short, they don’t know “pass pro.”

Tuesday at Bucs camp, Jones was getting a taste of what it will take if he wants to be on the field, especially on 3rd down, and here were some examples.

The Pewter Report.com was up close with Jones on a couple of occasions and got a great look at the intensive effort to help him learn techniques and protection plans. First, here he was with running backs coach Tim Spencer going over footwork and body position:

And then, came another big part of the “pass pro learning curve.” Jones having to put what’s been discussed in the meeting room, on practice tape or in a drill into motion in a “game-like situation.”

In this case, the rookie Jones is responsible for blocking Bucs dynamic linebacker Kwon Alexander in this drill. And while you have to look through some bodies to see it, you get the idea of the importance and challenge:

The real test will be, when the Buccaneers line up against the Dolphins, etc. in actual live game situations in the preseason starting next week.

And if Jones needs yet another reminder of whether something as fundamental as “pass pro” is important, then look no further than last year’s fifth round pick RB Jeremy McNichols.

A player that Tampa Bay thought could be part of their future in the backfield turned out to not be able to handle blocking. He was famously chewed out and benched by coach Dirk Koetter in a scene from HBO’s all access show “Hard Knocks,” when he missed a blocking assignment in a game. The show documented his struggle with learning that part of the game.

Interestingly, in some of the scenes from the show, Peyton Barber was seen and heard encouraging McNichols that he had struggled to pick up blitzers, etc. in pass protection and was trying to help the Boise State rookie.

Ultimately, McNichols was cut by the Bucs at the end of camp before you could spell “b-l-o-c-k.”

Now, it wasn’t the sole reason, but it certainly was a glaring weakness.

A weakness that can be a problem for Jones, or any young back.

Now, we will see how he handles it.

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