ALAMEDA -- Even after staying off the practice field for five days, the Raiders were so depleted at running back Wednesday that they put cornerback and special teams ace Taiwan Jones back in a white jersey and gave him the ball.
Running back Darren McFadden is hurt again, this time with an ankle injury sustained on Thanksgiving Day against the Dallas Cowboys. Running back Jeremy Stewart has ankle and knee issues, preventing him from practicing. Leading rusher Rashad Jennings was on the field but limited with a concussion, having yet to be fully cleared.
That left fullbacks Marcel Reece and Jamize Olawale as the only healthy backs until along came Jones, shedding the black jersey worn by defensive players.
Taken as a running back in the fourth round of the 2011 draft, Jones was moved to cornerback last offseason in part because of his speed and tackling skills and durability issues as a running back.
"Once I got out there, everything came naturally, like riding a bike," Jones said. "The more reps I got, the more comfortable I was."
Jones has one run out of punt formation this season for 19 yards and is averaging 24.6 yards on 16 kickoff returns. In 2011 and 2012, Jones carried 22 times for 94 yards.
"Taiwan's played running back for us, so it's not something that's new to him," Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. "With Rashad's situation with the concussion and with Jeremy and Darren's situation, not knowing their status for game day, we have to be prepared with the guys we have to have somebody step up."
McFadden's latest injury comes after five carries for 13 yards against the Cowboys. He was inactive the previous three weeks with a hamstring stain, as well as Oct. 6 (also with a hamstring).
In the final year of a six-year contract signed after he was taken fourth overall in the 2008 draft, McFadden is on track to enter unrestricted free agency with back-to-back poor seasons punctuated by games missed because of injury.
Since the start of the 2011 season, McFadden has played in 27 of a possible 44 games and has averaged 3.4 yards per carry in 2012 and 2013.
"D-Mac is hobbled right now, a little bit," Reece said. "We'll see how it comes, but whenever he's down, it's always all hands on deck, and it's running back by committee."
Jennings' availability for Sunday's game against the New York Jets will be subject to successfully completing NFL protocol. He was clearly dazed after the Cowboys game, and Allen hopes the extra time afforded by the Thanksgiving appearance will enable the Raiders' leading rusher to play against the Jets.
Complicating matters is that Jennings missed the final four games of the 2012 season with Jacksonville because of a concussion.
"It's really going to be something that we'll have to evaluate throughout the week and see if he's healthy enough to go this weekend," Allen said. "He's gotten better every day. Our hope is he'll be good to go Sunday."
Jones, who has excelled as a gunner on kick returns, said he didn't expect that role to change even if he winds up getting some snaps at running back.
"My mindset is when I'm given the opportunity to do something, I'm going to make the most of it," Jones said. "So whatever thoughts the coaches have, they tell me what to do, and I'm here to do it."
"Being on the sidelines and watching the game is the toughest part because you want to be a part of it," Branch said.
Branch said he's still going through the rehab process but will "push it to the limit and whatever happens, happens" in hopes of being available to face the Jets.
Follow Jerry McDonald on Twitter at Twitter.com/Jerrymcd.
Raiders (4-8) at N.Y. Jets (5-7), 10 a.m. CBS
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Taiwan Jones, a converted cornerback, has moved back to running back as the Raiders seek healthy ball carriers against the Jets.