The two-plus years of Cyrus Jones' career haven't exactly gone as planned. After being selected in the second round in 2016, the former Alabama standout has by any measure been a disappointment.
But slowly he seems to be finding his footing as he hopes to begin his third NFL season in September. After suffering through a miserable rookie year that saw him struggle with ball security in the return game, Jones tore his ACL in the fourth preseason game last summer and wound up missing his sophomore campaign.
Now he's healthy and looking to fulfill the promise he showed in his days at Alabama, where he was the most prolific punt returner in the country in 2015. After opening camp on PUP and missing the first two preseason games, Jones made his debut Friday night in Carolina and returned a punt as well as three kickoffs against the Panthers.
"Whatever opportunities I get I'm going to try to make the most of them," Jones said. "All I can do is control what I can control. I'm going out there and practice hard, be consistent and when my number is called I have to make the most of my opportunities."
Jones had kickoff returns of 18 and 20 yards while having a 27-yarder negated by offsetting penalties. He did a nice job of fielding his one punt off a bounce to prevent any further roll, showing good judgement and excellent ball security in the process.
"It was good to see him on the field against Carolina," Bill Belichick said. "He's been out there in practice but it's good to see him in game action. I thought he handled the ball well in the return game, kickoffs. He didn't have a great chance on the punt, but I thought he made a good play with what he had. There wasn't much there.
"He made a couple of guys miss on the kickoff return, handled the ball well, showed some run skills, played a little bit on defense. Hopefully we'll get more of that this week. He's certainly making improvements on his way back and we'll see where he gets to. It was good to see him out there."
Jones also saw extensive action on defense in the second half, working in predominantly in the slot against Panthers backups.
"I felt pretty good out there with the reps that I got," Jones said. "They were at the end of the game so they weren't doing too much that was complicated. I just tried to play my technique, play consistent and do my job. I' m not going out there looking to do something spectacular. I'm just trying to put myself in the right position to make plays when they present themselves to me."
Jones has handled countless punts and kicks during practice this summer and virtually every one has been flawless. With Julian Edelman set to open the season serving a four-game suspension, an opportunity for a punt returner exists. Cordarrelle Patterson, who is a dangerous kick returner but has only returned one punt in his career, also got a chance in the Panthers game but the kick was short, depriving him of the opportunity.
As for Jones, he's taking things in stride as he prepares for the preseason finale Thursday night against the Giants.
"I took good things from the [Carolina] game and just tried to use them as a building block," he said. "Whatever opportunities I get I'm just trying to make the most of them."