Jonathan Jones rose from the undrafted ranks into being one of the most valuable members of the Patriots, a versatile defensive back who can play a number of positions. Jones' role slowly increased over his first four seasons, from winning a spot on the team as a rookie and playing nearly 70 percent of the special teams snaps to playing a personal high of 61 percent of the defensive snaps in 2019.
The slot corner used to be a part-time defensive substitute, but in today's NFL they're now essentially considered starters and it's one of the hardest positions on the football field. Interior receivers can break off their route in almost every direction, meaning those in coverage must be as reactive and quick as they come. That's what has made Jones' rise so important, but he's not a one-trick corner, he's a dynamic match-up piece that can be employed a variety of ways.
"Teams are running sub-offenses for all three downs, so that's kind of increased the value of it on the offensive side," said Jones via video conference with the media on Tuesday. "So, therefore on defense, we kind of have to match that. So, the slot guys and more the nickel guys and the third and fourth corners are kind of increasing their value because, like I said, the offenses are using their receivers that much more.
"I think, especially in our defense, guys line up outside, inside and a little bit of both."
Fresh off a three-year extension signed early in the 2019 season, Jones has emerged as one of the key cogs in one of the best secondaries in the NFL. On a Patriots team facing a number of changes this season, this group remains one of the team's strengths.
Jones has enjoyed getting back to square zero, despite the limitations of training from home and via video conference calls. He even installed his own home gym for training sessions.
"[It's] refreshing that – I mean, even for the veteran guys, just hearing some of those terminologies over and over again – and starting from scratch," said Jones. "I think that's something we kind of do every year. We don't assume that everyone knows anything, so we start on the playbook from page one. So, having these meetings and being able to start from page one of the playbook and go through that, as veterans it's refreshers and young guys, it's to catch them up to where everyone else is."
While the team is unable to get on the field, they're still able to work on what Jones thought was one of the most critical aspects of their team and defense -- communication -- and he was hopeful that the veterans at safety and cornerback could help give the team an advantage when it comes to preparation.
"I know we use the word communication over and over, because in football that's so key to make sure you get 11 guys to see the same picture at the same time," said Jones, who also played spy and safety roles throughout last season. "So, in the back end, just having those guys who have seen the same thing over and over, and there's subtle communication between each other that we've grown an understanding. So, just getting back to that once we get on the field, I think we'll be a step ahead. But, like I said, we have to continue with that with these meetings to just kind of refresh that."
As for transition at quarterback and the challenging offseason conditions, Jones continues to approach the new season and the unknowns, along with a tough schedule, with a level head.
"I'd say I guess I'm conditioned by Bill [Belichick]," said Jones. "I've been here for going on five years. I'm conditioned to just know every year is a new year, every team is a new team. Everybody has changes and their winning percentages from last year kind of doesn't matter.
"It's a whole new year, a whole new defense, a whole new team. So, just figuring out who we are as a team and how we win best on defense is our task this year."