GREEN BAY – Aaron Jones has a specific area of his game he wants to improve on in 2019, and he has a specific plan for how to accomplish it.
He wants to become a better receiver out of the backfield, and he’s going to get his brother to help him.
If there’s anything Jones takes the most pride in from his second NFL season, which saw him rush for 728 yards and eight touchdowns with a hefty 5.5-yard rushing average, it might be catching his first NFL touchdown pass.
It came in Seattle back in Week 11 on a route out of the backfield that appeared to surprise Seahawks linebacker Austin Calitro. Jones ran at the defender in the short zone beyond the line of scrimmage, but instead of sitting down as a checkdown option, he jetted up the field.
Aaron Rodgers’ pass was right on target for the 24-yard score, the kind of play Jones wants to be able to make more of next season.
“I want to work on some route-running out of the backfield,” he said as he cleaned out his locker last week. “To be more precise on my routes, making it actually look like a route – not just out there running.”
Jones did catch 26 passes for 206 yards in 2018, a sizeable increase from his rookie numbers (nine receptions, 22 yards), but he still feels he can do more with what he considers very reliable hands. Enter the precision of his movements and reads.
As for his plan for how to become a better route-runner on his own, he’s going to turn to an old reliable, his twin brother Alvin. A linebacker and former teammate at the University of Texas-El Paso, Alvin will be the defender he’s counting on to sharpen up the finer points.
“Having somebody line up in front of you, it’s different running it on air versus when you have a man in your face,” Jones said. “What are you going to do when he’s in zone? What are you going to do if he’s in man? It’s a little different how your route can change.
“I have my brother and he plays defense, so, he knows.”
The Packers also know that when Jones puts this kind of focus into something, strong results usually follow.
He entered his second season in 2018 wanting to be a better pass protector for Rodgers, and when he did, he earned more playing time as the season wore on. He also got more snaps (and touches) as his body held up better, after injuries in both knees as a rookie had him shifting in and out of the lineup.
The health troubles caught up to him again, though, as another MCL injury at Soldier Field in Chicago – the same place he hurt one of his knees in 2017 – forced him to sit out the final two games this past season.
The injury robbed him of a run at his stated goal of a 1,000-yard campaign, so strengthening the lower body remains high on the priority list for the young running back.
“I did a lot of it (last year), and I lasted longer, so I just have to up it some more and work a little harder,” he said, choosing not to dwell on his injury history but knowing he must change it.
“It does get frustrating, but it’s part of the game. You have to keep your head up, keep moving and grinding, and not let that seep into your head.”
He’s also looking forward to a third year with fellow 2017 draftee Jamaal Williams as his backfield mate. The two have become close friends while still competing and never letting one another relax.
Both have answered the call over their first two NFL seasons when thrust into the No. 1 role. Even after conceding the spotlight to Jones for much of October and November, Williams posted a career-best 156 yards from scrimmage in the Week 16 overtime victory against the Jets, one week after Jones’ injury in Chicago.
Williams told reporters after the season the disappointment of another sub-.500 year “burns” and will fuel him all offseason. He declared “next year should be my best year,” and he might as well have been speaking for Jones, too, when he said it.
“I’m very excited,” Jones said. “Both of us have shown we’re very capable and willing, we love to play, we love to be on the field, we’re competitors. Getting both of us going will be something hard to stop.
“We’re two different runners, but we’re both productive and both get the job done. I think it’s going to be hard for defenses to get a bead. It’s not like, oh, when he’s in he runs this play, and when he’s in he runs that play. No, we run the same plays, but we just have a different running style.”
Rodgers often has referred to Jones as a “slasher” while Williams is more of a true power back. They complement each other well.
But don’t forget about that competitive part, either. Williams’ pass-catching numbers from 2018? He had 27 catches for 210 yards, one reception and four yards more than Jones.
That’s just another piece that’ll push him as he focuses on his skills in the passing game this offseason.
“Last year we felt like babies, and this year we kind of felt like veterans but we’re not veterans, we’re just the guys in the room who have been there the longest,” Jones said. “Me and Jamaal, we can both do special things.”