IRVINE (News4usonline) – Second-year running back Xavier Jones believes this is the right time for him to show off his skills. That’s because the backfield for the Los Angeles Rams has become jumbled with a boatload of runners trying to distinguish themselves on the football field.
With Cam Akers lost to the season due to injury, Jones, along with Darrell Henderson Jr., Jake Funk, Otis Anderson, and now Sony Michel, are all vying to be on the Rams 53-player roster.
The Rams just acquired Michel in a trade. Henderson is a seasoned veteran, while Jones, Funk, and Anderson bring the dimension of freshness and inexperience to the backfield. Jones wants to make the most of his chances. He’s definitely proven he’s hungry to do so.
As an undrafted free agent out of SMU, Jones was able to stick with the ballclub in 2020 by earning his stripes on special teams, he said.
“Special teams kept me around last year, for sure,” Jones said. “Just showing up every day ready to work, showing I want to be here and just staying patient. That’s the biggest thing, coming through a Covid-19 year. Me personally, no combine. No preseason. No pro day, so all odds were against me. I put that chip on my shoulder and I came in and tried to stand out as much as I can. I stuck around.”
When he came out of college, Jones was one of the best collegiate running backs in the country. In 2019, Jones led the nation in rushing touchdowns with 23 and pounded the ground for 1,276 yards.
Because he had such a great campaign, Jones was named as a semifinalist for the Doak Walker Award and Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award.
However, his size may have worked against him when it came to being drafted. Jones stands at 5-foot-11 and weighs somewhere in the range of 205 and 208 pounds. Jones says he has what it takes to play every down and added that he plays much bigger than what he looks like.
“I feel like I can do it all,” Jones said. “I weigh 205, but I run bigger than 205 [pounds]. I feel like I can make the first man miss. I can finish runs. I’m strong. So, I feel like I can be an every down back. If anything I try to make my game similar to like a young LeSean McCoy. He and Reggie Bush was somebody I always looked up to and then mixed in with the power of Zeke [Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott], and the power of [New York Giants running back] Saquon [Barkley].”
With that said, Jones knows to earn a spot on the active roster, he has to go out and prove he’s worth keeping around. In the team’s first couple of preseason games, Jones has totaled 50 yards. At times, his burst of speed and ability to change direction mid-stride is attention-grabbing.
He’s also nifty enough to make defenders miss pretty easily. Despite the Rams getting a new quarterback in former Detroit Lions star Matthew Stafford, Jones said year two for him has been made easier because of the familiarity he has with the offense.
“I feel like I improved in learning the offense, just understanding the game, slowing the game down itself,” Jones remarked. “That’s been a huge improvement from year one to year two. Now I can just go out there, relax and have fun and play fast, play like me.
“Last year, it was more like, ‘I can’t mess up here. I can’t mess up here.’ It was a lot thrown at me at one time,” Jones added. “Just going into the offseason, getting myself stronger. Leaning down a little bit, getting faster, getting more explosive, and getting into the playbook. That’s the main thing.”
After playing the Los Angeles Chargers preseason game played at SoFi Stadium on Aug. 14, Rams head coach Sean McVay said he likes what he sees from Jones.
“I thought he did a good job. Not a whole lot of looks,” McVay said. “He’s a slash runner. He’s able to create more than what sometimes the play is blocked for. I think he’s steadily stacked good blocks day in, day out. He’s a guy that if he keeps on this trajectory, we’re going to be expecting good things from him this season.
“And (RB) Jake Funk showed really great things,” McVay continued. “The fourth-down and one run, where he’s hit in the backfield and is able to surge forward and get a yard and a half. But (RB) Xavier (Jones) has been a bright spot in camp. And I thought with the limited opportunities he had tonight he was a positive.”
While the running back-by-committee thing continues as a theme for the Rams, Jones said he is able to vibe great with his backfield mates.
“The competition’s been great,” Jones commented. “We’re a close-knit group. We’re all here. We all know what we’re here for. We’re here to compete. I feel like that just makes us better all throughout camp, and that’s what we’ve been doing. We’ve been putting pressure on each other, and I feel like at the end of the day that makes us all better.”
Making the competition battle civil is the fact that all the running back get along, Jones said.
“Some running back rooms may not be like that,” said Jones. “Some running back rooms might be hate towards the starter, maybe hate towards the guy that’s behind you, but it’s football and we’re competing. But it’s love at the same time. Everybody’s out here competing, but we know there’s only one running back on the field at the same time.”
Due to the outbreak of Covid-19 in 2020, Jones-like everyone else was hit hard because there was no minicamp or training camp to draw from before going into the regular season. As a rookie, Jones said he certainly would have benefitted from a minicamp or training camp last year. That’s neither here nor there.
He made the team. Year 2 is about flexing his skillset.
“I wish I could have had a preseason last year,” Jones said. “But each practice, each joint practice, each preseason game, I’m just trying to show my talent and show this coaching staff they got a dominant runner.”
Featured Image Caption: Aug. 21, 2021. Los Angeles Rams running back Xavier Jones (25) hitting the hole against the Las Vegas Raiders. Photo credit: Mark Hammond/News4usonline