I taped Cowboys/Eagles II last season. I thought Seattle might face the Cowboys in the NFC Championship, but I also thought Julius Jones might be an undervalued free agent. Why? Gut feeling, nothing more. Well, a little bit more. As I've mentioned before, Jones's brother Thomas had a career renaissance after burning out his welcome with a few teams and I thought Julius may be able to do likewise. Pretty flimsy, I know. When I began to research Jones everything popped up negative: poor performance compared to teammate, declining speed, a seemingly good run blocking Cowboys unit--except for one thing: his receiving numbers were actually improving.
Anyway, I reviewed the tape of Jones, but before I get to what I saw, let me be clear: He only ran the ball 6 times, and didn't record a reception. So, major small sample size alert.
- First play: Jones breaks an arm tackle and then does something I'm all too familiar with: sits in the hole. Jones is a very patient runner, too patient for the Cowboys blocking.
- Jones recorded 5 very solid blitz pickups and didn't whiff once. He's not a dominating pass blocker, but he's extremely disciplined and, really, pretty solid. He exampled 3 different kind of blocks: a shoulder block, a low block and a Sean Locklear-style shade and wash out. He did not once get out of position and even showed the awareness to "zone block", that is sit between two free blitzers and pick up the more urgent assignment. He did this twice. Once it resulted in a first down completion.
- Jones is, as previously stated, a rudimentary route runner, but, again, a disciplined one. His timing on play-action is solid, as is his sell. He doesn't do anything particularly dynamic in space, but he runs his routes/does what's asked of him.
- There's no avoiding this comparison: Jones looks like a younger Shaun Alexander. He's a weaving rusher that makes many small cuts. He's faster, quicker and much more agile than current Alexander. The end for Alexander was pretty simple: he simply could no longer break with any alacrity out of his cuts, effectively stopping in the hole. Jones gets into the hole, attempts to read his blockers and the defense, makes many quick, small cuts looking for daylight and then explodes into the open area. It's a maddening and demanding style that--on anything but an elite offensive line--will result in tons and tons of 0, 1, 2 and negative yardage rushing plays.
- It's also exactly how Mike Holmgren likes to run.
- The greatest difference between Marion Barber and Jones's performance with the Cowboys is fit. The Cowboys offensive line is stacked with giant, bruising blockers without an iota of finesse or technique. Barber runs straight, headlong through traffic and fights off tacklers, falls forward. It's an undemanding style that doesn't take great blocking to be effective. Undemanding, except on his body. Jones is almost pathologically patient. He lets his blockers setup, and if they don't is lost. Completely lost. Not unlike Alexander.
- Jones looked slow, discouraged and in need of a change. He was quick to the line, but painfully slow through the hole. The hole, if you're wondering, was more like a seam. He was out of place in Jason Garret's offense and had no chemistry with his blockers. He did not, though, look washed up or broken. He looked defeated, victim of too many blown assignments, free linebackers and microscopic holes.
Conclusion: Jones is a bit like Alexander reborn. A smart back with good vision that can be extremely effective, great even, if his blockers are assignment correct and create the kind space he needs. Consistently. If Seattle's line looks like last year's, Jones will only be slightly more effective than Alexander. If Mike Wahle rebounds and Rob Sims takes to right guard, Jones might make for a wonderful reclamation project. The logic seems to be: Morris was never going to be what Holmgren wants. Jones is. Jones is cheap, has no injury history and was once considered a top back. Give Holmgren a player that can work in his system, one he'll actually play. If I'm still not crazy about this signing I will at least say this, it makes a ton of sense. If this O-line comes to play, it also might be pretty damn sweet.