With 896 total rushing yards last season, Thomas Jones impressed in his first year in Kansas City as the second half of a dynamic running back tandem with Jamaal Charles that led the league in total rushing. It was largely viewed as a successful year with Jones' production and ability to spell Charles, thus keeping him fresh, while head coach Todd Haley also lauded Jones' presence in the locker room and on the field. But what about this year?
The reason we're placing Jones in the spotlight is because the Chiefs have already jettisoned some solid veteran talent that provided strong leadership in the form of Brian Waters after already seeing Mike Vrabel wave goodbye to take a position with his alma mater at Ohio State. That's a major loss on both sides and shows that the Chiefs aren't willing to keep anyone who might not be up to par athletically with what they are wanting to do if they also have options in house. Given the Chiefs acquisition of Le'Ron McClain (who can definitely run well) and the presence of Dexter McCluster, it's not enough for Jones to be a solid citizen.
But that doesn't seem to be the plan for Jones at all this season. While Todd Haley has already come out saying Charles will receive more touches this season, Jones still plays a prominent role in the backfield. The bottom line is that Jones wouldn't be around if he wasn't important to the offense, and Haley has said he has plans for Jones this season.
It's important to note that even though he split the role with Charles last season, 2010 was still Jones' first season less than 1,000 yards since 2004, and it was his lowest total since 2003. His 3.7 yards/carry signaled a major decrease from the previous two seasons of 4.5 in 2008 and 4.2 in 2009. It'd be easy to look at that and believe Jones was on the typical downward spiral that every NFL running back hits. While it's true his best years are behind him, you should expect him to bring something to the table given his place on the roster.
Jones enjoyed a nice burst early in the season and hit his stride after the first few games of the season. In Week 3, Jones had 95 yards on 19 carries in a win against the 49ers. In Week 5 and 6, Jones hit his only two 100-yard games of the season with 100 yards exactly against the Texans and 125 in a win over the Jaguars. Some nice games can be found after that, especially in terms of yards/carry, but it's clear that Jones ran out of gas toward season's end. He was absolutely stymied in both games against the Raiders (a combined 29 carries for 49 yards), and he only had 51 yards on 23 carries against the Titans in Week 16.
At this point, the signing of Le'Ron McClain strengthens the Chiefs running back position overall by providing a top-flight fullback to pair with the two-headed attack of Charles and Jones. However, it also provides another power runner to spell Jones at times and lessen the overall workload. If the Chiefs have playoff aspirations (as they should), maintaining individual and team momentum well into December is crucial, and the team will need Jones to be in top form late in the season if they really want to make some noise.
Charles displayed some amazing numbers alongside Jones, so Haley knows something about the combination he's formed with the pairing. Our guess is that Jones enjoys McClain's presence and that he ends up with 800+ yards in the end with more consistent performances across the board -- especially late into the season.