The hype is real. It’s warranted. After just a couple days of training camp, I’m already comfortable making a declaration.
Sidney Jones has it.
As in, he’s crazy talented with swag to match. As in, he looks like the guy who would have gone first round last year without a torn Achilles. As in, I don’t care how it happens, but the Eagles need to find a way to get him on the field a ton in 2018.
He’s just too good to not play.
Of course, it’s up to the Eagles’ defensive coaches to figure out how this will play out. As training camp opened, Jones was working as the Eagles’ first-team nickel cornerback. On Day 2, he was bumped to outside corner with the second team as De’Vante Bausby worked with the first unit. And this isn’t a knock on Bausby, who has been good enough to warrant serious consideration for a roster spot, but he isn’t Sidney Jones. And there’s no way Bausby should keep Jones off the field for much longer.
Eventually, the Eagles are probably going to settle on Jalen Mills, Ronald Darby and Jones as their top three corners. It’s fine if Jones doesn’t start right away, especially because the Eagles are in their nickel defense 75 percent of the time anyway. That could actually be a perfect way to get Jones a ton of snaps and ease him in a little bit. The two positions — nickel corner and outside corner — are different, but covering is covering … and Jones has already made it abundantly clear in just a couple of days that he can cover.
“Just handle your business inside or outside,” Jones said confidently this week. “You gotta play ball. I bring a lot to the table.”
Jones isn’t loud or boisterous. He’s not the Green Goblin. He’s not Asante Samuel. He’s not the type of dude who’s going to tell you he thinks he’s the best player on the field before every snap. But make no mistake, he thinks he is. He’s confident; it’s just a quieter confidence. That swagger is something every cornerback should have and Jones easily checks the box.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Isn’t it a little early to be praising him like this?” Maybe. We’ve seen him in just one regular-season game — 29 snaps against Dallas in that meaningless regular-season finale last year — and he didn’t even make it through all of the spring, getting shut down for some “lower-body soreness.” But Jones said soon after the minicamp wrapped up in June, he felt fine and resumed his workouts. He’s looked healthy early in training camp. He's looked like the star we saw coming out of the University of Washington.
Perhaps you want to worry about his health. After all, it can’t be easy to return from a torn Achilles. And if you want to worry about that, I can’t stop you. But the doctors say he’s healthy, he says he’s healthy and he certainly looks it. He’s so far beyond the Achilles tear that it’s not even nested in the back of his mind.
If you don’t believe me, believe his teammates, believe his coaches. Because it’s impossible to ask any of them about the 22-year-old corner without getting back a look of “oooh, he’s nice.” They’ve seen him work for the past 14 months. They’ve seen him in meeting and the film room. And now they’re seeing all that work pay off on the field.
“It doesn't seem like he's a rookie player out there,” defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said.
No, it doesn’t.
However the cornerback situation plays out this year, I think it’s pretty obvious that Jones will be a cornerstone in this defense for years to come. Maybe that’s too much pressure to put on a 22-year-old player who has one NFL game under his belt, but I have a feeling he is more than equipped to handle it. Besides, that’s not his focus anyway.
“I’m just trying to win,” Jones said.
If that’s the Eagles’ goal too, they better find a way to get this kid on the field.