Tom Brady and Bill Belichick talk all the time about the importance of mental toughness, and a certain player on New England’s roster certainly has a long offseason ahead as he tries to rebuild his own after a difficult rookie campaign.
Rookie defensive back Cyrus Jones started the year with plenty of optimism after being selected in the second round in this year’s draft, putting him under the spotlight since he was the first player taken after the Patriots were left without a round one pick thanks to Roger Goodell’s penalty for DeflateGate.
His selection seemed like a good one, with Jones coming in as a relatively heralded player having played for Nick Saban at the University of Alabama. He had a reputation as a hard-worker and someone who enjoyed spending his free time in the film room, all attributes that fit the mold the Patriots typically love to add to their roster.
“I love watching film,” Jones told reporters shortly after being selected. “I used to get teased a lot at ‘Bama by my coaches saying I should have an office where their offices were because I was in the film room so much and up there almost just as much as they were.”
“I love watching film and think that’s the key to becoming a better player. There are a lot of players in this league that have physical gifts and talent but you know working hard off the field, I think that’s what separates you.”
The other thing that separates a player is how well he can overcome adversity during the tough times, and that’s exactly what Jones is facing. He had some rough moments in his rookie year, including a game that saw him get ejected, along with his well-noted struggles returning kicks. He saw limited snaps in the secondary but showed some promise defensively, although toward the end of the season, he found himself inactive for five of New England’s final six games, including their Super Bowl victory over Atlanta.
Jones was a star at Alabama but had a rocky rookie season in the NFL.
After a difficult season, Jones felt like an outsider as the Patriots went on to win their fifth Lombardi Trophy.
“I’ll never take credit for something I don’t feel I contributed to,” Jones told the Baltimore Sun last week. “I was part of the team, but I didn’t feel a part of it.”
It’s now lead to plenty of frustration on his part, especially after his repeated problems in the return game ultimately boiled over in a Monday night game against the Ravens in December where Jones allowed a punt to bounce off his foot and then failed to dive on the football, allowing the Ravens to recover.
Overall he fumbled five times in 2017, which to Jones was so uncharacteristic given how well he played in college that it reached a point where he just felt like he could never get it together, and he almost gave up.
“I honestly felt cursed,” he told the Sun. “I reached a point where I didn’t even want to play. I just didn’t have it.”
He’s not the only one who has endured rough times here in New England, with Marcus Cannon being the most recent name that comes to mind after what happened in 2015. The veteran tackle took a lot of heat for his struggles that season, so much so that he even deleted his Twitter account. But instead of letting it break him, Cannon clearly buckled down and got back to work, finishing the 2016 season as an incredible asset to New England’s offensive line. He faced some tough competition all season, and managed to neutralize some of the league’s best players. One of those included Denver’s Von Miller, who absolutely tortured him the previous season as the Broncos hit Brady an incredible 20 times in an AFC Championship loss for New England (the NFL scorekeepers later lowered that total to 17, but it’s still a mind-blowing number for a single game), which Miller played a big part in. But reuniting Cannon with offensive line coach Donte Scarnecchia changed everything this past season and finally got him back on track, to the point where Cannon earned himself an extension.
That’s what the best players do, and Jones needs to have a chat with someone like Cannon who knows what it’s like to be in his shoes. The same could even be said for Devin McCourty, who had a terrific rookie year at cornerback and then followed it with a frustrating second season that saw him struggle badly. However, he also never game up and has ultimately become one of the top safeties in the game.
It all comes down to how adversity is channeled and while Jones is down on himself, he’s already preparing to turn it around in 2017. According to the Sun, Jones is currently working at an offseason performance center in New Jersey, having even canceled a vacation with his parents because, “No such thing as an offseason for me,” he told the newspaper. “I didn’t earn it.”
It’s hard not to root for a player like that and it’s certainly too early to give up on him at this point. We’ve seen adversity bring out the best in several players on this football team in years past and hopefully for Jones, he’ll be the next player to fall into that category next season.