FOXBORO, Mass. — Cyrus Jones has a difficult task ahead of him this summer.
The 24-year-old cornerback most prove to his New England Patriots coaches that he is: A) fully healthy after missing all of last season with a torn ACL, and B) a serviceable NFL player, a status he never reached during his disappointing rookie year in 2016.
Jones, as Patriots fans surely remember, was benched twice during his first pro season, struggling mightily both on defense and in the return game. The latter had been his specialty at Alabama, helping him become a second-round draft pick.
After sitting out the entire 2016 postseason as a healthy scratch, Jones showed noticeable improvement last summer, especially as a punt returner. Then, in New England’s preseason finale against the New York Giants, his knee gave out on the much-maligned Gillette Stadium turf, resigning him to a long year away from the game.
“It was very frustrating,” Jones said Monday. “But very quickly, I tried to just move on. Just rely on my faith and understand everything happens for a reason and just take positives from it.”
The rehab process was a long one.
While wide receiver Julian Edelman, who tore his ACL one week before that Giants game, has been darting around the field since May, Jones remained on the physically unable to perform list until last week. His first practice in full pads was last Tuesday, and he didn’t take his first rep in 11-on-11 drills until Sunday.
All the while, the injury has remained fresh in his mind.
“That’s a no-brainer,” said Jones, whose last meaningful snaps came on Christmas Eve 2016. “I just got out here four days ago, so yeah, I’m still thinking about it. But that’ll come in time. I just try to go out there and not focus on it, which is, I wouldn’t say impossible, but it’s definitely a tough thing to do. You haven’t been out there in so long, and you’re just getting your feet wet, pretty much.”
Jones cleared one hurdle by getting himself back on the field. Now, he’ll need to separate himself from the myriad other cornerbacks who are vying for spots on the Patriots’ 53-man roster.
Stephon Gilmore and rookie Duke Dawson are roster locks, and Eric Rowe, Jason McCourty and Jonathan Jones all have strong chances of sticking around, as well, leaving Cyrus Jones, J.C. Jackson, Jomal Wiltz, Keion Crossen and Ryan Lewis squarely on the roster bubble. (NESN.com’s latest roster projection has the team cutting all five of them.)
Jones’ best path to a roster spot likely is as a punt returner, as the Patriots need someone to fill that role while wide receiver Julian Edelman serves his four-game suspension. Jones, who was able to do what he called “very modified” return work while he was sidelined, has looked steady fielding punts in practice but has yet to do so in a game post-injury. He dressed but did not play in last Thursday’s preseason-opening win over the Washington Redskins.
“I’m still blessed to be able to play this game,” Jones said. “To have an opportunity to still put on a Patriots jersey. And I’m just blessed to be able to come back out here and run around on a football field. I put the work in to try to get back out here and to be (the) best I can, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to go out there and have an opportunity to showcase the work that I put in. I’m not really worried about negative stuff right now — frustration or whatever. It’s in the past.”
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images