Thomas Jones powers through questions the way he used to power through defenders, dodging a few but mostly running right over the rest.
Is it frustrating to get just a handful of carries every week?
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What’s it like to go from superstar to afterthought?
How hard is it watching Jackie Battle take over the No. 1 job?
They’re not easy questions to answer. In some cases, Jones doesn’t have an answer. He was playing in the Pro Bowl three years ago, and last year ran for nearly 900 yards while teaming with Jamaal Charles to form a potent one-two punch in the Kansas City Chiefs backfield.
Lately, he’s been spending most of his time on the sideline.
”I’m doing the things I need to do during the week to be prepared,” Jones said. ”This is the way the season is playing out.”
It hasn’t been an unsuccessful season, at least by team standards. Kansas City is 4-4 at the midway point and tied for first in the AFC West heading into Sunday’s game against Denver.
But it’s been a rough season for the 33-year-old Jones, who has just 66 carries for 200 yards, an average of 3.0 yards per attempt that’s by far the worst of his 12-year career.
His best performance came a month ago, when he carried 10 times for 55 yards as the Chiefs rallied for a 28-24 victory at Indianapolis. But the past two weeks have been an exercise in patience, with Jones carrying a total of 14 times for 29 yards.
”We’re 4-4. Obviously we’re doing some good things,” Jones said. ”I just try to take advantage of opportunities when they come, and be a leader on the team, and make sure I’m doing the right things and showing everyone else how to do the right things.”
Sometimes, that means putting players in their place.
It was Jones who reportedly got into a locker room altercation with first-round draft pick Jonathan Baldwin during training camp, which resulted in Baldwin spending the first few weeks of the season out of the lineup with a broken right thumb. Both sides have refused to discuss the incident.
One thing is clear: Baldwin has been a model teammate ever since, just like Jones.
”Thomas is such a big part of our team, and like we’ve always said, everyone has to be a good teammate, and that’s easy and hard sometimes,” Chiefs coach Todd Haley said.
”I don’t want to speak for Thomas, but there’s nobody more competitive than Thomas, who wants to be helping,” Haley said. ”Especially when you have a poor outing, that’s generally when you hear, `I just want to help,’ and I know Thomas will and has been a tremendous leader.”
Jones doesn’t have so much pride that he’s unwilling to help out Battle, who has gotten the majority of the first-team reps since Charles went down with a season-ending ACL injury in Week 2. The longtime special teams standout has made the most of his chance, running for 342 yards this season, already more than his first four years in the league combined.
”Jackie’s a hard worker. He’s been around for a while, he’s taken advantage of opportunities and he’s making plays for us, and that’s big,” Jones said. ”At the end of the day, we’re all giving the best we can to be productive on both sides of the ball.”
That production doesn’t necessarily have to be in yards and points.
Haley said Jones has been the consummate leader, working just as hard as he did when he was piling up five straight 1,000-yard seasons for the Bears and Jets.
He shows up early to film sessions and stays late at practice, and can usually be found in the locker room, serving as the veteran spokesman for the rest of his teammates.
”It’s part of the job,” Jones said. ”It’s part of being a pro, especially being around a long time, being a part of a lot of different situations.”
Jones said he doesn’t feel any different than he did his first three years in Arizona, or during his best years in Chicago and New York. If anything, he feels even stronger.
The problem is that it’s not translating into production.
Thomas brushed aside questions about his playing time. He isn’t sure whether he needs more carries to get into a rhythm. He refuses to criticize Haley, offensive coordinator Bill Muir or the rest of the coaching staff. That’s simply not his style.
No, he’d rather help out however he can, biding his time until he gets his chances, however few they are. That’s why he’s become so respected in the locker room.
”He’s interwoven within the fabric of this team,” Haley said simply, ”and he’s a big part of everything we do.”