It took him a full calendar year, but Cyrus Jones finally seems to have found his groove as a New England Patriots return man.
Jones, who was an unmitigated disaster on special teams as an NFL rookie last season, has improved immensely in that regard this summer, making a strong case to earn a spot on the Patriots’ 53-man roster. He bolstered that case Saturday with two impressive punt returns in New England’s 27-23 preseason loss to the Houston Texans.
“It looks like he made something out of nothing a couple of times, so that gave us some good field position,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick told reporters after the game.
Jones reeled off a 36-yard return on Houston’s first punt of the night, sidestepping linebacker Dylan Cole and taking off down the left sideline.
Later, the 2016 second-round draft pick showcased his evasiveness and covered nearly the full width of the field on a 17-yard runback that set the Patriots offense up with prime field position.
All told, Jones returned four punts for 58 yards in the game and picked up 17 yards on his lone kick return. He returned six kicks for 117 yards and one punt for zero yards a week earlier in New England’s preseason opener. And, most importantly, he’s yet to put the ball on the ground.
“I thought Cyrus did a good job in the return game, both punts and kickoffs,” Belichick said in a conference call Sunday afternoon. “He ran hard, ran aggressively, made good decisions with and without the ball. And we had a couple of situations where the ball hit the ground or was going out of bounds. I thought he did a nice job.”
That’s not to say he’s been perfect, of course. His play at cornerback has ranged from dreadful to half-decent (he missed a tackle on D’Onta Foreman’s 63-yard scamper Saturday night), and he did commit a minor error in the kicking game against Houston, catching a punt while backtracking near his own 10-yard line that he probably should have let go.
The Patriots don’t need Jones to be a lockdown corner, though. They already have two of those in Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore, plus a very solid No. 3 in Eric Rowe and an exciting up-and-comer in Jonathan Jones.
If Jones continues to look like the electric return man he was at Alabama, he’ll have a place on this team.
Thumbnail photo via Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports Images