FOXBORO — The Patriots are unlikely to see the full potential of their cornerback group this season, but thanks to an early-season trade they can at least get close.
The Patriots are expected to be without cornerbacks Christian Gonzalez and Marcus Jones for the rest of the season, but they put a very strong group on the field Sunday. And the unit should be getting even better in time for Sunday’s game against the Dolphins.
J.C. Jackson, reacquired in a trade with the Chargers earlier this month, is back to playing close to 100% of defensive snaps in his return to the Patriots. Jack Jones, in his first game back from injured reserve, and Jonathan Jones, who was nursing a knee injury suffered in Week 7, split snaps at the other outside cornerback spot. And Myles Bryant manned the slot. Jackson, Jack Jones and Jonathan Jones all played in Sunday’s win over the Bills but never all shared the field at the same time.
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But Jackson, Jack Jones and Jonathan Jones have all been full-gos in practice this week. And the potential of a position group with Jackson and Jack Jones on the outside and Jonathan Jones back manning the slot seems high.
“Through the roof,” is where Jack Jones sets it. “I don’t want to put a cap on it. I feel like if I was to say anything, it would be putting a cap on it. Just let us go out there each Sunday and play to our potential and see where we land, but I think we’ve got a really good group.”
“I feel like we have the potential to be one of the best secondaries in the league with this defense,” Jackson said. “We just got to play up to that.”
Jack Jones, who was one of the league’s top rookie cornerbacks last season, was frustrated by a hamstring injury he suffered prior to Week 1 that kept him out for the first six weeks of the season. The ailment occurred after gun charges, stemming from an arrest in June when police allegedly found two handguns and ammunition in his carry-on bag at Logan Airport, had been dropped against him.
“That was tough, bro,” Jack Jones said of his injury. “That’s the worst, especially first week. I mean, we go through all fall camp and the summer and you’re good. And then the first week is just a bummer. You don’t want that to happen at all. But you’d rather it have it earlier than later. It’s God’s timing, not mine. It was an unfortunate situation, but I’m blessed to come out of the situation and be able to play football.”
Jonathan Jones, who has primarily played outside over the last two seasons after serving as one of the NFL’s best slot cornerbacks for the first six years of his NFL career, said he’d be comfortable moving back inside.
“That’s my thing about my career,” Jonathan Jones said. “I’ve kind of done everything here. Whatever I’ve ever been asked to do has always been an option.”
And Jackson, who was one of the NFL’s top cornerbacks in his previous tenure in New England, has been praised by Patriots cornerbacks coach Mike Pellegrino for the effort he brings back to the team.
“I love J.C.,” Pellegrino told reporters on Tuesday. “I missed him when he was gone. … J.C.’s bringing a different energy to the room on working hard and getting ready to go for practice and stuff like that. That’s been really good. I’ve been really impressed with his new attitude, pushing himself, pushing everybody to play better. …
“He’s always been a guy who loves to work. I’m out there at practice, I’ve got two seconds to myself, he’s like, ‘Mike, let’s go do something. Let’s go do some long balls.’ He always wants to do extra work. He’s out there 10 minutes before practice starts, working on his footwork. He does a great job trying to stay on top of his craft.”
Jack Jones said Jackson gets the whole group going “being himself really, just being J.C.”
Jonathan Jones sees Jackson motivating younger players like Jack Jones.
“I mean, he doesn’t say too much, but just his presence,” Jonathan Jones said. “He’s one of those playmakers and has been here for a while. Just the energy he brings to the room is different, different energy, and a lot of those younger guys can kind of gravitate to that, as well.”
If Jackson and both Joneses start, that would allow Bryant to go back to his strength of being a versatile chess piece in the Patriots’ defense, capable of playing in the slot, outside and at safety.
The Patriots could catch a break this week with Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill missing Wednesday’s practice with a hip injury. Jonathan Jones has been adept at limiting Hill, who returned Thursday, in the past if the speedy wideout can power through the ailment.