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Offseason question: Is Matt Jones ready to shoulder the load at running back?

Running back Matt Jones is in position to become the Redskins’ go-to guy out of the backfield. (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)

The Washington Redskins seem content to let Alfred Morris depart via free agency, and that means the team will have a new lead running back.

The big question: Who fills that role?

Team officials must decide if Matt Jones, who will enter his second season, is ready to take the next step in his development and take over as that workhorse back, or if they must bring in another option via free agency or the draft.

A third-round pick out of Florida last season, Jones certainly showed flashes both as a ball-carrier and a pass-catcher.

Read our answers to other offseason questions

His Week 2 performance against the Rams, when he rushed for 123 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, and his Week 10 outing against New Orleans when he posted a 187-yard day (56 rushing, 131 receiving), were among his season highlights.

However, Jones also struggled at times with consistency and ball security.

While splitting the workload with Morris, Jones averaged just 3.4 yards per carry. He also fumbled five times, losing four.

Jones displayed his inexperience at times, missing opportunities for bigger gains because he was more intent on bouncing to the outside after giving up on designed interior runs too quickly.

In their offseason deliberations, Redskins coaches and talent evaluators must determine whether they believe Jones has the capability to improve upon his problem areas and grow to become a more well-rounded back in Year 2.

While Jones must improve, not all of his shortcomings (or those of Morris) were the fault of the backs. Washington fielded a young offensive line for the bulk of the season after injuries claimed starting left guard Shawn Lauvao for the season, and sidelined center Kory Lichtensteiger for much of the year. More experience along the line could lead to improvement in the run game. It’s also important for Washington’s coaches to examine their schemes to ensure that they maximize Jones’s skill set. Being able to tailor a run game completely to Jones’s strengths rather than having to blend the attack to suit both Morris and Jones could lead to better results.

Jones missed the final two regular season games and the playoff game against Green Bay because of a hip pointer. However, a number of his veteran teammates said as they departed for the offseason that they believe the young back has what it takes to become the workhorse back that Washington needs going forward.

But general manager Scot McCloughan and head coach Jay Gruden’s confidence levels remain unclear.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see the team add a veteran to the mix this offseason. But the question is will that addition come in the form of a new contract for Pierre Thomas, who joined Washington late in the season and served as the No. 2 back with Jones injured? Or, will the Redskins seek a back capable of competing for the starting job?

Matt Forte, Doug Martin, Lamar Miller and Chris Ivory all currently have expiring contracts, but given McCloughan’s stance that he doesn’t intend to make a big splash in free agency, and because of more pressing needs elsewhere on the roster, it seems unlikely that Washington pursues any of those backs, who are expected to command sizeable contracts.

It’s possible that the Redskins looks to the draft to add depth. But such an acquisition likely wouldn’t come in the first two rounds of the draft.

Perhaps a challenger could emerge from those ranks, but for the good of everyone, and because of the investment already made in Jones, it benefits the franchise greatly if he can take a leap forward in 2016.

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