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Jones blazes into Raider consciousness

By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Thursday, April 14th, 2011 at 12:50 pm in Oakland Raiders.

Taiwan Jones doesn’t play at a position of need, but that didn’t stop Raiders running backs coach Kelly Skipper from making sure he got a private moment from the Eastern Washington running back Wednesday following a series of combine-style workouts at Los Medanos College in Pittsburg.

Skipper and Jones talked for a minute or two before the Oakland assistant and member of the team’s personnel staff made their way off the field and headed back to the club facility in Alameda.

Jones, who went to high school locally at Deer Valley High School in Antioch and played at Eastern Washington, had a Pro Day which provided an opportunity for 27 teams to evaluate, with the added bonus of letting a handful of media members access to mix and mingle with the coaches and scouts and not only see the workouts up close, but listen to what was being said.

For what it’s worth, I heard Al Davis’ name mentioned on three different occasions _ every time in reference to the blazing 40-yard dash time Jones clocked during his first full-speed workout since having surgery to repair a fractured fifth metatarsal on his left foot.

Each team brings its own stopwatch, and the times on Jones ranged from a 4.28 to a 4.35 in on his first attempt,, and then from 4.30 to 4.35 when they reversed direction. So, yes, Jones has Raider speed, running the same kind of times Darren McFadden ran before the Raiders picked him No. 4 overall. Jacoby Ford ran a 4.28 a year ago and was the fastest player at the 2009 scouting combine.

He also had a vertical leap of just under 40 inches and broad jumped 11 feet. Jones ran some pass routes and held everything that came his way, although as one coach explained, no one is really sure about his receiving skills since they weren’t explored in college other than the occasional flare and screen.

Jones rushed for 1,742 yards at Eastern Washington despite missing the final two games with the injury, which occurred when he made a hard cut on a wet field in a 230-yard rushing effort.

One NFL assistant coach watched the drills after the 40-yard dash with only a passing interest, saying, “We all came to see him run the 40 and see if he was healthy. That was all I needed to see.”

Jones ended the college season at 178 pounds, but weighed 196 pounds Thursday and said he’s been as high as 201. He still looks sleek, however, and said the weight gain is simply a factor of eating right and lifting weights every day at Athletes Performance Institute in Los Angeles, whose clients also include Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson. Since training at API, Jones has increased his number of bench press reps from six to 13 at Indianapolis to 17 in his most recent attempt (he did not do the bench press Thursday).

A major college recruit who went to Eastern Washington because of grade issues caused in part by a learning disability, Jones was cheered on by large contingent of friends and family as well as a number of curious onlookers _ a crowd of about 200 in the stands at Los Medanos.

Forty-Niners running backs coach Tom Rathman and Skipper were involved in putting Jones through drills. Skip Peete, the former Raiders running backs coach now serving in that capacity for Dallas, was also in attendance.

The 49ers were also represented by personnel executive Tom Gamble, and speculation is they’ll be looking for a running back to pair with Frank Gore this season.

The Raiders, meanwhile, already have McFadden under contract, have tendered potential free agent Michael Bush, and also re-upped with Rock Cartwright and Michael Bennett.

As for kickoff returns, another Jones’ skill, Oakland already has Ford. Then again, the Raiders can never have too many ultra-fast players.

Asked if he has a visit scheduled with the Raiders, Jones said, “None that I know if, but I’ve talked to them on the phone, I talked to them on the combine, and we’ll see where it goes from there.”

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