With Stephon Gilmore traded and J.C. Jackson departing in free agency, the New England Patriots’ cornerback group seemingly lacks a true shutdown cornerback. Just don’t tell Mike Tomlin.
According to the Pittsburgh Steelers head coach, veteran Jonathan Jones is deserving of the CB1 label previously held by the likes of Gilmore and Jackson — and not just that: Tomlin even went so far as to name him in the same breath when it came to lockdown abilities.
“They play a really, really good matchup game,” he said about the Patriots defense ahead of the two teams’ matchup on Sunday. “An example: I’m watching their tape and they’ve always got a lockdown match corner over the years. In recent years, it’s been Gilmore, and then it was Jackson, and now it’s Jones.
“I think that’s what you get when you get continuity in a program if you will. The names may change, but the roles and how they go about business, their mode of operation very much remains the same. I turned on the tape from last week and I see 31 tracking 10 [Tyreek Hill] from Miami very much in ways like the number one corners from New England usually do.”
The longest-tenured member of the Patriots’ cornerback group, Jones first joined the team as an undrafted free agent in 2016. Through the years, the Auburn product developed into a reliable player and helped New England win two Super Bowls
However, a shoulder injury cut his 2021 campaign short. When he returned to the field this summer, Jones no longer aligned in his usual spot in the slot; instead, he was moved to the perimeter to help replace the departed Jackson.
“It was great to have Jon Jones back,” said Patriots linebackers coach Steve Belichick about him earlier this week. “I’ve loved that kid since the day he walked in the building. His versatility, his toughness, his intelligence, how hard he plays — I can’t say enough good things about Jon Jones. Having him back on the field just helps everybody out on defense.”
While Jones’ presence did not help the Patriots beat the Miami Dolphins in Week 1, he did have a solid individual day. Going primarily against Miami WR1 Tyreek Hill, Jones saw six passes thrown his way. According to Pro Football Focus, he surrendered four catches for 50 yards to the All-Pro — a solid performance. It apparently also caught Tomlin’s eye.
On Sunday, the Steelers head coach will get a close look at the 28-year-old defensive back; Jones will play a prominent role in the New England defense yet again. Whether he will follow Pittsburgh’ No. 1 receiver, Chase Claypool, or take on another assignment remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: the Patriots will again place plenty of trust in Jones.