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Ask PFW: Jones's rookie woes

How can Bill [Belichick] keep putting this [Cyrus Jones] kid on the field? He must be lighting it up in practice? Maybe we can send him back to Nick [Saban, head coach at Alabama] for a refresher course?? Corky Decker

Watching Cyrus Jones, I think he might well be in contention to be the biggest draft bust in recent years, exceeding Dominique Easley on production and only really competing with Josh Boyce, Jordan Richards, and Tavon Wilson for returns on draft position. Obviously he's a rookie and hopefully he improves with time, but surely he's done on punts now (even before he kicked the turnover, there was one he got way too close to for no reason), and maybe even in the secondary? From what I've seen, he gets burned consistently. It has to be hurting his confidence. Do you think [defensive coordinator Matt] Patricia and Belichick might bench him for his own good and try to salvage the player they thought they had in the draft?Alex Marr

Watching Cyrus Jones struggle mightily and seeing that the Patriots invested a second-round pick on him, his confidence would probably be very low at this point. Wouldn't it help if the Patriots got Kevin Faulk to help work with him? Stephen Libby

There's no doubt that Jones is having on-field difficulties, both on defense and special teams (though particularly the latter), and that the young player's confidence has taken an enormous hit. You know what else isn't helping his confidence? Seeing and hearing everyone piling on about just how badly he's playing. He knows he's struggling, his coaches know it, his teammates, his family… everyone. He's young and very sensitive, as his occasional self-defense posts on social media would indicate.

It's become cringe-worthy, at this point, to witness what Jones is enduring. He's been benched (deactivated altogether for some games this season) and brought back, and it hasn't had much of a positive effect.

Belichick and his coaching staff must believe that what's occurring is a temporary slump – albeit a protracted one – and that the best solution is to continue trying to build up Jones' self-esteem by giving him more opportunities, rather than fewer. That's what helped both Kevin Faulk and current Patriot Julian Edelman overcome their ball-security issues early in their careers.

I believe it's unfair to characterize Jones as a "bust" this early in his career. He hasn't even yet completed one season in the NFL, and Belichick always likes to remind us that a player's biggest development gains come between years one and two in this league. So, while it's probably best for Jones to retreat from special teams duties for the time being, it's also best for his critics to exercise some extra patience with regard to this impressionable young man. Erik Scalavino

Do you have any insight as to why Cyrus Jones has struggled so much as a punt returner? I can't fathom how the best return man in college football can't seem to hold on to the ball to save his life in the NFL. Ben Offen

I can only tell you what I've observed of Jones since he came to Foxborough earlier this year. Upon his arrival after the draft, he came across as a nice, humble, yet confident player. He spoke softly, but with self-assuredness.

Then, in his first training camp practice, he muffed a punt. Or a kickoff. Perhaps it was both. In any event, one mistake lead to more mistakes. His problems snowballed. It seemed like that first error caused Jones to put undue pressure on himself. He began thinking too much and not reacting naturally enough.

In short, it became a psychological issue more than a physical one.

This manifests itself in media interviews, where Jones is clearly troubled. His voice is barely above audible, and he seems to be engulfed in self-pity. I recently asked him if he is still having fun playing football. His response: "I guess you could say that."

It's difficult not to sympathize, or even empathize, with Jones. We've all had periods in our lives when we've fallen short of our own (and others') expectations, sometimes inexplicably.

I give Jones enormous credit, though, for facing the music. Each time we in the media have asked him to speak with us, he's granted us several minutes of his time and answered each query posed to him. That's a mark of maturity, and the glimmer of hope everyone around Jones should cling to, because it indicates that Jones could be capable of overcoming whatever is impeding his progress at the moment. Erik Scalavino

Do you think we see Griff Whalen and D.J. Foster on the active roster to return kicks/punts? I hate seeing Julian [Edelman] back there especially after Danny [Amendola] getting hurt. Using [James] White and [Dion] Lewis is asking for trouble, too, if either of them gets injured – and no Gronk – it would be hard to make a SB push.Stacy Hanson

Astute point, Stacy. I share your anxiety when it comes to this situation. Every time I saw Edelman, Patrick Chung, and the two running backs fielding kicks against the Ravens, my heart was in my throat. As we saw with Amendola, all it takes is one play to decimate your depth chart.

I wasn't entirely surprised that Whalen was inactive versus Baltimore, seeing how he only just arrived in Foxborough three days earlier. What I didn't anticipate was seeing both Whalen and the rookie Foster on the inactive list for the Ravens game. With Amendola on the shelf for the foreseeable future and emergency wide receiver Matthew Slater still not at full strength with his left foot injury, New England was down to just three healthy receivers and scrambling to fill kick/punt return spots with running backs and defensive backs during that game.

Foster is an intriguing option. He has considerable college experience as a pass-catching back and slot receiver, and worked with the wide receivers in practice leading up to the Baltimore game. He's also gotten a few return reps this season, so, I assumed he would be active and possibly playing a prominent role versus Baltimore. Maybe we'll see him suit up more in the remaining contests this season. As for Whalen, it's just too soon to know exactly what he brings to the table, but I imagine he'll be in consideration for both offensive and special teams roles as well, sooner rather than later. Erik Scalavino

Do you think with the rise of [rookie] Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Hogan, the Patriots let go of Danny Amendola after this year? He's been pretty good for us, but at this point his skill-set seems a little redundant, he's the oldest of the top four wide receivers (Edelman, Mitchell, Hogan, Amendola) and I find it hard to believe the Patriots would swallow a $6 million base salary for 2017 for the fourth WR on their depth chart. Granted, I'm sure they'd try to re-negotiate that number if they did. Phong Ta

I'm always reluctant to look ahead to next season's business when we're in the midst of yet another playoff run, but given Amendola's current injury status, this particular player is worth examining in a long-term context.

The veteran has enjoyed the most success in his pro (somewhat journeyman) career as a Patriot. He's been mostly healthy, contributing in various areas, and – this shouldn't be understated – he's a rare outsider who's come to the Patriots and picked up the offense at wide receiver. Tom Brady trusts him, and he's proven his value to the team.

He's also been loyal when it comes to finances. Sure, Amendola received a generous free agent offer to come here in the first place, but he's also reworked his contract more than once to stay on the team.

Whether or not New England wants to retain his services beyond this season depends, it would seem, on two factors: Amendola's health and the availability of quality alternatives for the Patriots to acquire this offseason, be they in the draft or free agency. So, as of this posting, it's just too soon to give you a definitive answer. My instincts tell me he'll at least get another opportunity to compete for a job here in 2017. Erik Scalavino

[With respect to Rob Gronkowski's latest injury]: How come no one has mentioned the Madden curse? Gronk did the cover this year, and it's been an injury fiasco since training camp. Peter in California

You aren't the first person to bring this  notion to our attention, Peter, but the reason you aren't hearing more about it is, well, because there are no such things as curses. Players, including Gronk, have been getting injured for years, and they've never graced the cover of the video game. The two occurrences are mutually exclusive coincidences. Nothing more. Erik Scalavino

I am a huge Patriots fan living in Michigan for six months... home of hardcore Detroit Lions fans who have been dying with the Lions for decades, as they say. They have a fight song and asked me the Patriots' song. I thought, 'Hmmmm, we do not have a song, we just win.' Well, after hearing their song soooo many times, I was inspired to write a tribute song to my cherished Patriots. Here goes:

We show up to play on game day
We play tough as a team, it's the Patriots' Way!
We run and we throw
Drive down the field, to the end zone we go!
We get the gains
Take the snap and move the chains!
We stop opponents in their tracks
with interceptions, forced fumbles and sacks!
Our fans have their job to do, too:
root for their team in the red, white and blue!
We are on the field to win on game day
We win as a team, it's the Patriots' way!!!

Let me know your thoughts. Rebecca Bauman

I applaud your enthusiasm and effort, Rebecca, particularly in making your verses rhyme. Next step, if you're truly serious, is to find a capable musician/composer to help set this to music. It's a tall order, though. As listeners of our radio show/podcast can attest, no fight song beats the simplicity and groove-ability (I made up that word) of the San Diego Chargers' fight song. Perhaps your initial inclination was best. The Patriots don't have or need a fight song. They've done pretty well without one these past 15 years. Erik Scalavino

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