FOXBORO, Mass. — The desire to move on from 2016 was a common refrain among New England Patriots players during this week’s mandatory minicamp. For most, that means putting the Super Bowl LI celebration behind them to avoid the hangover that often strikes defending NFL champions.
Cyrus Jones’ reason for moving on is different.
The Patriots’ top draft pick last spring, Jones endured a disastrous rookie season, both at cornerback and in the return game. So pervasive were Jones’ struggles that Patriots coach Bill Belichick benched him on two separate occasions and sat him for all three playoff games.
Jones revealed after the season that he reached a point where he wanted to give up on football entirely. He felt “cursed,” he said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun.
Now Jones has a chance to start fresh. He’s one of several cornerbacks battling for a roster spot behind projected starters Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore, and Patriots coaches still are waiting for him to develop into the dynamic return man he was at Alabama.
Speaking after Thursday’s minicamp practice, the 23-year-old said he has left the past in the past.
“I’m just focused on this year,” Jones said. “I’m not really interested in talking about last year.”
In evaluating New England’s roster, Jones looks like one of the players with the most to prove as the months before cutdown day. Even though he was a second-round draft pick just a year ago, he’s far from a roster lock and could be on the chopping block if his play does not improve.
Jones, however, insisted he has “nothing” to prove after his disappointing debut campaign.
“It’s a no-brainer,” he added. “You watch last year. As far as proving something, I just want to come out and be a productive player for the team. I’m not going into every day saying, ‘I need to prove this, prove that.’ I’m just trying to come, work hard every day and get better.”
Jones struggled mightily catching punts during the one day of organized team activities that was open to the media last month. He improved considerably in that regard during minicamp, though he did muff one punt Thursday.
On defense, Jones saw time as the slot cornerback in New England’s No. 1 defense Thursday. The Patriots, who lost former slot corner Logan Ryan in free agency, have tried out multiple players in that spot this spring, with Jonathan Jones handling slot duties Tuesday and Justin Coleman doing so Wednesday.
“I mean, I ain’t worried about it,” Cyrus Jones said of scrutiny he will be under this summer, via Mark Daniels of The Providence Journal. “It’s y’all’s job to scrutinize. You’re all going to do that whether I’m doing good or bad. If I was worried about you all, I wouldn’t be focused on what I got to do. It is what it is.”
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images