Overview: On March 3, 2008 and before cutting Shaun Alexander, Seattle signed Julius Jones to a four-year, $11.8 million contract. Maurice Morris started week one. Morris left with a knee injury and Jones would start the next three games. It was the most productive three game stretch of his season. Jones rushed for 328 yards on 65 carries against the Rams, 49ers and Giants. The greater part of that coming against the two bad teams. Morris was gradually reinserted into the rotation in week six and outclassed Jones as a rusher. Jones would see 18 total touches in the final six games, not playing at all in week 14, and only seeing significant action in week 13. He fumbled twice against the Cowboys.
What went right: Jones was an excellent pass blocker. Something Seattle has not had in a running back since John L. Williams. And Williams was a fullback. He was a competent receiver though rarely targeted. In his good weeks he showed decent moves and more power than expected. Jones was an undemanding running back that took his assigned hole and did with it what could reasonably be expected. He has good vision, accelerates smoothly and is quick enough to take advantage of cutback lanes.
Last non-special teams play of the half. The cap on a refreshingly merciless drive by Seattle. Seattle breaks 3 WR, TE, Rb. Rams in a 4-3 with eight in the box. They're walking up pressure in preparation for an obvious blitz. Carlson is on the left, where he saw a surprising number of snaps. Carlson has proven himself a dangerous enough receiver that he demands DB attention, and that mixture of receiving threat with competent run blocking makes this play work. Ron Bartell plays opposite Carlson. At the snap, the Rams blitz seven. Walter Jones blocks hard in, Mike Wahle drops back but delays his pull, Chris Spencer pulls into the second level, engaging Will Witherspoon, and Carlson locks down Pisa Tinoisamoa. Julius Jones runs up behind Jones, Wahle completes his pull dominating Bartell, Jones cuts out, cuts back behind Tinoisamoa and enters the third level with only three to beat. His wending, 32 yard rush is a legitimate third gear from pay dirt.
What went wrong: Jones recorded one of the more empty 4.4 yards per carry in recent memory. He had four fumbles. His two best games came against the second worst run defense in the NFL and a San Francisco team employing a fulltime nickel package. Jones was eclipsed by Morris as a rusher and, in part because of a public blowup, was functionally benched.
Outlook: Jones is one of Tim Ruskell's low-end free agents he signs to fill out a roster, and that another team might not sign in favor of playing a draft pick. His cap hit in 2008 was $1.5 and after counting $2.7 million against the cap in 2009, Seattle is free to cut him without penalty. The penalty is if Jones sucks. The value is that these signings allow Seattle to consistently select best player available in the draft.
I don't think Jones did or will suck. He's an average rusher, very good blocker and a good receiver. Like every player, he's sure the new system fits his style and will unlock his potential. Jones could be good in a zone-blocking scheme, but he should have been good in Mike Holmgren's man scheme, too. What's much more likely to improve Jones' play is a healthy Matt Hasselbeck. Jones is a former speed rusher that's now just fast. He still has the wheels to break long runs, but is no longer a matchup problem. His good health, rounded skill-set and low price should make him a valuable if largely unspectacular running back.