HOUSTON — When cornerback Cyrus Jones reflects on his rookie NFL year, he compares his experiences with the New England Patriots to that of his freshman season at Alabama in 2012.
Patriots rookie cornerback, and Baltimore native, Cyrus Jones. (CNS Photo)
He was caught in a whirlwind of adjustments for classes, practices and the demands of the Crimson Tide’s championship culture. This season with the Patriots has been just as overwhelming, Jones said.
Still, in Super Bowl LI against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, the product of Gilman School in Baltimore has the chance to finish his introduction to the professional ranks the same way his first year in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, concluded: With a title.
“It’s been an up and down year, but just learning from the mistakes,” Jones told Capital News Service. “Just trying to grow as a player and as a person and just not taking anything for granted. Realizing I’m blessed to be in this position and trying to take advantage of it.”
Jones arrived in New England as a second-round draft pick in 2016 with expectations for immediate contributions.
He had been a standout defender and special teams returner for the Crimson Tide, helping the team earn two national championships in his career. He was the Most Valuable Player in Alabama’s College Football Playoff semifinal win as a senior with an interception and punt return for a touchdown.
But in his first NFL season, he’s managed only seven tackles. He’s also had five fumbled punts, forcing coach Bill Belichick to cut his playing time.
Jones has drawn on his past success as reason to believe the skid won’t last.
He finished his career at Gilman, winning state championships in football, basketball and outdoor track and field as a senior, as perhaps the Baltimore area’s top recruit.
He played wide receiver in his first Alabama campaign, but Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban moved him to cornerback as a sophomore. He became one of the most dynamic players in his draft class.
Teammates see that potential, too.
Jones’ locker is next to cornerback Logan Ryan’s. Ryan joked Jones is neat, so the two haven’t had much trouble getting along.
The fourth-year cornerback felt similar pressure when he entered the league as a third-round pick, so he’s told Jones not to dwell on his shortcomings.
“You can’t make it too big,” Ryan said. “He’s got to break things down individually and just try to be good at that and take it one day at a time. Eventually, it’s not too much.”
Safety Patrick Chung has given similar advice. The eight-year veteran has witnessed Jones’ athleticism in his jumps, cuts and speed in practice and told him to be patient.
After all, Jones hasn’t had a physical break because his preparations for the combine and draft workouts after Alabama’s season blended into offseason practices and training camp with the Patriots.
“It’s the longest year of your NFL career,” Chung told Jones of the rookie grind. “Just keep pushing, stay confident.”
Jones heeded the words and tried to embrace Belichick’s tough style. He’s no stranger to the rigors after serving as a leader in Saban’s dynasty-making program.
His production at the end of the regular season started to show an increased comfort as well.
Jones had four tackles in the last two games, and while he was inactive for both playoff outings, he’s appreciated the chance to work with his team for another week for a Super Bowl win that would add to his championship collection.
“It’s been a long season,” Jones said. “I’m taking it all in. A lot of people don’t get the chance to get to a Super Bowl at all, and I’m here in my rookie year, so it don’t get much better than that.”
This story is part of special coverage of the Super Bowl, a collaboration between Capital News Service and the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism at the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism.