Matt Jones is Banking on his ‘Eagle Claw’
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - From a physical standpoint, Matt Jones has everything you need to be a bell-cow back in the NFL.
At 6-foot-2 and nearly 240 pounds, the former University of Florida standout has the kind of size, speed, and power which put him on the fast track to starting status inside the beltway after being a third-round pick of Washington back in 2015.
By 2016, however, it was a penthouse-to-the-outhouse situation for Jones with the Redskins because of the one issue that can derail any skill set at the RB position: ball security.
Earmarked to replace Alfred Morris as the lead back in Jay Gruden's offense, a penchant for putting the football on the turf, coupled with an ill-timed knee injury, had Washington quickly turning toward then-rookie Rob Kelly.
Jones was then put on a different fast track, one that took him out of town and into a second chance with the Indianapolis Colts, where Jones met up with the two people who have at least ensured the Tampa native's ability to step into the batter's box one more time with the Eagles this season, former Indy RB coach Jemel Singleton and veteran Pro Bowl back Frank Gore.
"It was just a technique thing for me," Jones admitted when talking about his previous fumbling issues at his locker on Tuesday. "In Washington, I held the ball the wrong way. In college, I got by with it because you're stronger than everybody."
What Jones was taught in the Hoosier State is something called the "eagle claw."
"The technique I use now is the eagle claw," Jones explained. "I feel so much strength and power working out and stuff and when I was in Washington I wasn't using the eagle claw. It was clumsy, the tip of my finger wasn't over the ball. Somebody would just walk by and slap the ball and it would come out. So that's a technique thing we've been working on since I left the Colts. Jemel Singleton really worked with me and Frank Gore really worked with me and we figured that out. I came here and [Eagles RB coach] Duce [Staley] said the same thing about the eagle claw.
"Getting around Frank was big for me."
Gore, a potential future Hall-of-Famer, has been one of the most consistent backs in football for over a decade so his personal stamp of the eagle claw carries some weight.
The technique essentially makes sure you have all the points of pressure on the football covered so even a direct hit from a helmet may not jar it loose.
"I look back at it now how I was holding the ball [with the Redskins] and I can't believe how I was holding the ball," Jones said. "You can be as strong as an ox but if you are holding the ball like I was or anyone who has had a fumbling problem it's gonna come out as soon as somebody touches it the wrong way. Sometimes I was getting hit and nobody was trying to rip the ball and somebody trying to tackle me would just point a finger on the ball and it just slipped out because I wasn't holding the ball at all the points of pressure."
Jones never got the opportunity to show off his improved ball security in the preseason opener against Pittsburgh last week due to an injury suffered in practice.
"I just had a slight hip pointer in a live contact drill, got hit in the hip, just set me back for like three or four days," Jones said. "Had to let it heal up and strengthen back up and I'm ready to play now."
Now Jones is back ready to contribute against the Patriots in Foxborough on Thursday. Meanwhile, many of his backfield mates are not ready. Corey Clement (ankle), Donnel Pumphrey (lower body) and undrafted rookie Josh Adams (lower body) are all expected to miss the game against the Pats leaving Jones and Wendell Smallwood to do the heavy lifting.
"This is like a playoff game for me," Jones admitted. "You gotta prove yourself. You gotta win I'm just ready to play really. I missed the first one I was so upset with myself. I tried not to get down on myself but I made it here and I get to play on Thursday. I'm happy about it."
The top of the Eagles' depth chart is set with Jay Ajayi, Clement, and Darren Sproles, meaning Jones is competing with Smallwood, Pumphrey and Adams for what could be the final roster spot at the position.
"I am just happy. I am happy to play football," Jones said. "Every time I go out there. Every time I'm ready to play. Suit up in practice no matter what, I'm ready to be out there. We do have some guys banged up. If I do get a lot of snaps I'm ready and I'm gonna be happy to be out there and just play the game that I love."
And clamp down on a roster spot with the "eagle claw."