Steelers RB Jones makes bid as starter
Only 10 days ago, former first-round draft pick Felix Jones was losing his bid for the Eagles' running back job.
Not the starting job — the No. 3 job. He trailed not only starter LeSean McCoy but also backups Chris Polk and Bryce Brown.
Now, in a curious twist that resulted from a rare Steelers trade, Jones temporarily may have secured a position in Pittsburgh with a team that is expected to be better than the Eagles.
Remarkably, it's the starting job.
Coach Mike Tomlin hasn't made it official. But it appears Jones — whose NFL future was in doubt earlier this month — might start the Steelers' opener Sept. 8 against Tennessee as rookie Le'Veon Bell remains out with a mid-foot sprain.
Jones, a disappointment during most of his five-season Cowboys career, appeared to vault ahead of Jonathan Dwyer, the idle Isaac Redman and LaRod Stephens-Howling by running for 56 yards on 14 carries during a 25-10 preseason loss at Carolina on Thursday night.
That effort, along with a 29-yard performance the week before against the Chiefs that occurred after he had only one ballroom walk-through in which to learn the plays, clearly impressed Tomlin.
“I thought Felix Jones helped himself,” Tomlin said. “I thought his pedigree showed. His natural run instincts showed. We'll just continue to look at it and go through the process in the proper manner.”
Asked if he thought he might start, Jones said, “We'll see how things go. ... You've got to let things play out.”
Jones has had only two full practices with the Steelers, but he is the most accomplished of their running backs and might have the best upside to start the season. He has 2,728 yards and a 4.8-yard career average that was brought down slightly by last season's 3.6-yard average.
But he was bothered throughout his Cowboys by injuries, from a hamstring, to an ankle to a shoulder.
So, just as the Steelers chose not to bring back former first-rounder Rashard Mendenhall, who was drafted one spot away from Jones, the Cowboys elected not to re-sign the 26-year-old after Jones ran for 402 yards last season despite making seven starts.
“It's definitely frustrating,” the 5-foot-10, 215-pound Jones said. “I don't want to dwell on that. It can hold you back. What I like to do is keep working and give it all I've got. It's the mindset you have to keep pushing on.”
He signed with the Eagles but never seemed to fit in there and was in danger of being cut before he was dealt to the Steelers for linebacker Adrian Robinson, who also might have been cut.
Sometimes, football is a funny business.
“It's definitely going to be a competition here,” Jones said. “I've just got to go out and play my game. Give it all I've got.”
Especially since, not long ago, he didn't know if he'd be playing the game at all this season.
“You've just got to go with it. You got the best of the opportunity you get and have fun with it, and that's what I definitely did,” Jones said.
Jones might benefit from the addition of the zone-blocking scheme that is designed, in part, to funnel runners to the outside with multiple blockers.
“Oh, man, these guys are great,” Jones said of the starting offensive line. “They're big guys up front, and they definitely provide the lane.
“I'm definitely privileged to be (running) behind them.”
Dwyer had 28 yards on six carries against Carolina and was the most-used running back during the preseason, in part because Redman was limited to two carries by a pinched nerve.
“All of us, we did our jobs and played well,” Dwyer said. “Any time we were on the field and had an opportunity, we were productive running the ball.”
The Steelers must trim their roster from 75 to 53 players by 6 p.m. Saturday.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.
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