The New England Patriots added some youth to their defensive backfield this offseason. Houston’s Marcus Jones was selected in the third round of the draft; fellow cornerback Jack Jones out of Arizona State was added in the fourth; Texas safety Brenden Schooler was later brought aboard in undrafted free agency.
The Joneses are locks to make the roster based on their draft statuses alone, while Schooler has had an encouraging summer serving primarily as a five-unit special teamer. Time will tell whether or not he will make the team, or how big of an impact Marcus and Jack Jones will have during their rookie campaigns, but if anything else all three have shown considerable promise at this very early stage in their careers.
What we have seen on the field in practices and the single preseason contest thus far tells only part of the story, though. Luckily, team captain Devin McCourty pulled the curtain back a bit on Wednesday
“It’s been fun. Both those guys are hungry, eager, ready to go,” he said when asked about Marcus and Jack Jones. “I think Jack is a guy, you can see his football instincts. Great feet. You can see what he’s able to do. And Marcus is my guy, sits by me in meetings. I’m cracking on him all day, but I think he wants to learn so much. Obviously, he’s playing a little bit everywhere in our defense — inside, some safety-type stuff.
“But I love both those guys. I love how they’ve come in, want to learn, want to get better.”
Even though he was asked specifically about the two cornerbacks, McCourty did not waste any time to mention Schooler as well.
“He’s just a guy that wants to learn. He understands a little bit how the NFL life is working and he wants to take advantage of it,” the veteran added.
“He has an opportunity between JB, Justin Bethel, Cody [Davis] and [Matthew] Slater. In my time in the NFL, your chance to be around three outstanding special teams players... and he understands that and he’s taken advantage to learn from them, going through drills with them, asking how they see things. All the makings of being a really good veteran player some day.”
Schooler moved between safety and wide receiver during his six-year college career at Oregon and Texas, but his kicking game contributions are how he might make the Patriots’ 53-man roster or at least practice squad. So far, things are looking good: Schooler led the club in special teams snaps versus the New York Giants last week.
There still is a long way to go. However, the 24-year-old appears to be the leading candidate to keep New England’s UDFA streak alive: the club has had at least one undrafted rookie on its opening day roster each of the last 18 years.
Marcus and Jack Jones, meanwhile, are competing for prominent playing time on defense.
Marcus missed some time during the offseason after undergoing shoulder surgery following his college career, but since his return has seen regular reps with the starters. Aligning primarily in the slot but, as McCourty mentioned, elsewhere as well, he appears to be on his way to maybe earning a starting gig in Year 1.
Jack, on the other hand, had a good performance in mandatory minicamp but spent the summer with the backups rather than the starters. Still, he could become CB4 on the outside behind currently projected starters Jalen Mills and Jonathan Jones as well as veteran Terrance Mitchell.
“I think we have a really good rookie group that has come in ready to learn,” McCourty said this week. “We’ve gotten them better at their rookie duties, some of the things they need to do. They’ve gotten better at that, they’re keeping our meeting room the way we need it to be. So, great group of young men and excited for all of those guys’ future.”