USC fans might have been disappointed to learn Ronald Jones wasn't exactly the "Texas Tesla" in his first professional season, but they might have reason to cheer the former Trojan in 2020.
Year 2 was an improvement for Jones, though it was largely overlooked as part of an offense that aired it out plenty (and had to overcome the turnovers caused by its quarterback as a result). Jones went from gaining just 44 yards on 23 carries and serving as a disaster as a pass protector to carrying the ball 172 times for 724 yards and six scores.
It was a jump that we'd be talking about much more if the Buccaneers had been a better team. Just look at Raheem Mostert's season (137 carries, 772 yards, eight touchdowns) and how much attention he received.
But none of that really matters to Jones, who knows he must improve once again because there's little time to slowly develop. Tom Brady is in town. The window to win is open now, and it won't be open for that long.
Jones has responded by spending his offseason in Arizona, training in the style of Hall of Famer Walter Payton by running the desert hills. He's also keying in on another area that was improved in 2019, pass catching, though he knows he can upgrade there, too.
"My hands are better," Jones said of his offseason work, via The Athletic. "Just catching more passes, every day. Like 300 a day on the JUGS (machine), and I've been working out here with high school and college quarterbacks and working with Brady, so I've caught every kind of ball you can imagine. I'm ready for that challenge."
Jones returned to Florida to work with the veteran quarterback privately, beginning the process of establishing a rapport with the ever-particular Brady.
"I just tried to soak in everything he was telling me, his attention to detail," Jones said. "We were running against air, but just still, being out there with him, getting that chemistry down, I felt that was important and it's going to help us when camp starts soon."
A reliable running back might be key to a deep postseason run for these promising Buccaneers, at least if history is any indicator. Patriots fans will wax nostalgically of the days of Antowain Smith and Corey Dillon pounding the rock on Super Bowl-winning New England teams of decades past, in the younger days of Brady's legendary career. But as our own Grant Gordon pointed out last month, it might not matter all of that much, as three of Brady's six Super Bowls were won by Patriots teams that didn't feature 1,000-yard rushers. In fact, two years after Smith rushed for 1,157 yards and 12 touchdowns en route to a stunning win in Super Bowl XXXVI, Smith split the workload almost evenly with Kevin Faulk as the Patriots marched to another thrilling victory in Super Bowl XXXVIII.
In an era in which committee backfields are more popular than perhaps ever, the youngsters drafted in the offseason (Ke'Shawn Vaughn, Ray Calais) might matter just as much as Jones.
Or, Jones could make his hay in the fashion of James White, who caught more passes from Brady than received handoffs in all but one of his six NFL seasons. That JUGS machine might come more in handy than even Jones realizes.
"Team success brings individual success, so just being out there, making a difference, that's the biggest thing to me," he said. "Every back has got to get a grand, and then there's the passing game, so I'm looking to be a multi-threat in the backfield."
Either way, Jones is prepared for a workload greater than one he's seen since his college days in Los Angeles. He knows he could see heights he'd only dreamed of with a legend lining up in front of him.