FOXBORO -- When Cyrus Jones was drafted in the second round by the Patriots, coach Bill Belichick and director of player personnel Nick Caserio both made it very clear that part of what made Jones a good value at that point was that he had special teams ability.
More specifically, they acknowledged that he was one of the premier return men in the draft. At Alabama last season, Jones recorded four punt-return touchdowns, and he led Division 1 with 530 punt-return yards.
Through 10 training camp practices, Jones has seen plenty of work as a return man. He has been the team's primary returner for both punts and kicks, and while practices have not been full-contact sessions -- meaning he hasn't faced any real threat of being tackled -- there have been moments where he's flashed the quickness that made him a big-play threat in college.
If he can seize that job, he may help Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola -- both talented return men in their own right -- avoid a significant number of hits over the course of the regular season.
Jones has also had some hiccups in the return game, muffing a handful of punts through the early part of camp. On Thursday, he muffed one in drills and then muffed another in a team period. On Sunday he muffed a Ryan Allen punt and swatted the football out of bounds before the punt team could recover.
Jones has been proactive about finding time to work on his hands, at times catching punts from a JUGS machine one-handed, because he knows he needs to clean up those types of potentially game-changing mistakes.
“I’m just trying to eliminate the drops and muffs altogether, and totally just get rid of that out of my game,” he said Monday. “I think that’s the biggest part of punt returning is possessing the ball . . . Once you do that you can use your athletic ability. But before you do that you can’t do anything.”
Jones has shared punt-return reps with undrafted rookie V'Angelo Bentley, Keshawn Martin and Chris Harper. Julian Edelman, who was a full participant in practice for the first time on Monday, has also seen some time as a returner. But Jones has taken the majority of reps there, using his balance and a quick first step to attack up the field.
When there are moments where Jones may be trying to move too quickly, resulting in drops, he knows that it's critical to put those incidents in his rearview as quickly as possible.
"It's definitely important to have a short memory and not let things like that affect you," he said. "I consider myself kind of a perfectionist. I'm really hard on myself and don't like when things
like that happen, but all you can do is move on and use it as a learning experience, and do what you gotta do to correct it and prevent it from happening again."