The New England Patriots will face the Jacksonville Jaguars in the two teams' 2017 preseason opener later today. The game is the first one the Patriots will have played since their dramatic comeback victory in Super Bowl LI. Most of the players on the current roster were part of the championship squad in one way or the other. Among them is Cyrus Jones.
Jones, who was the Patriots' highest selection in the 2016 NFL draft, was a healthy scratch during the Super Bowl, however. After struggling all year long both on defense and as a kick returner, New England's coaching staff basically opted to shut him down late in the year to a) not further hurt his confidence and b) not risk losing any games due to any negative plays by the Alabama product.
After all, he has had plenty of them despite only seeing limited snaps. He fumbled five of a combined 19 punt and kickoff returns, leading to three possession changes. Jones also was targeted nine times on defense and gave up five receptions for 84 yards as well as a pair of touchdowns. Furthermore, he also was responsible for two penalties – one of which being a disqualification (week five at the Cleveland Browns).
In short: He has had a tough first year in the NFL. His second one starts later today with New England's preseason opener against the visiting Jaguars – and Jones arguably is the player with the most to prove in the game: He has to continue showing that he does indeed have a future in the NFL on either defense or special teams (ideally, both) and that the Patriots did not make a mistake investing a second round draft choice in him.
So far during training camp, the 23-year old has been partially able to do that. He was competitive in coverage and solid as a returnman. Even though he muffed one of the first kicks he handled, Jones bounced back and displayed solid hands and decision making since then. The question entering today's game therefore is whether or not he is able to build on his last two weeks and show that he is also capable of solid play when the spotlight is on him.
And while today's exhibition contest will neither make nor break his chances of making the team, a good performance would go a long way towards helping him get back on the right track. Anything else, and Jones might get lost on a deep New England roster. The pressure, naturally, is on.