Jonathan Jones was dubbed "Big Play J" by Patriots captain and safety Duron Harmon thanks to the young cornerback's knack for making key plays on both defense and special teams in primarily reserve action over his first two seasons in New England.
The 2016 undrafted rookie out of Auburn played in all 16 games in each of his first two seasons, including five starts. Despite a secondary role in the secondary, Jones tallied 42 tackles, a sack, an interception and nine passes defensed in that action, while also adding 12 tackles, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble in special teams work.
That youthful production has Jones very much in the mix for cornerback depth this summer in Foxborough, even though the third-year veteran opened training camp on PUP due to an ankle injury suffered in last January's divisional playoff against the Titans.
Now, after returning to practice on Aug. 7, it sounds like Jones may be ready to see his first game action of the preseason on Friday night in Carolina against the Panthers.
"Feel good. Feel ready to compete. Feel ready to play and ready to go," Jones said Tuesday afternoon following practice.
Even with the late start, Jones remains a strong contender for a key role in the New England secondary. While Stephon Gilmore is entrenched as the Patriots No. 1 corner, the rest of the jobs and roles at the position appear to be up for grabs. Veteran returner Eric Rowe and trade addition Jason McCourty appear to be vying for the other starting job. Jones, fellow third-year corner and PUP returnee Cyrus Jones and rookie second-round pick Duke Dawson seem to be battling for reps in the slot. Youngsters like practice squad vets Ryan Lewis and A.J. Moore as well as late-round pick Keion Crossen and undrafted rookie J.C. Jackson are also a part of the competition.
For Jones, he's just glad to actually be part of the on-field competition once again.
"It's good to be back out there practicing with the guys," Jones said with a smile. "They've been working hard. Just to come in and try to help contribute and try and contribute any way I can. I'm looking forward to it."
He admits he's playing a little bit of catchup with the guys who've been on the field since camp opened on July 26.
"Definitely. Those guys were working hard. Every day you missed you are missing something whether it's fundamental techniques or your trying to catch up and get on their level," Jones said. "They've been putting in a lot of work. To get back with them and show up and compete with those guys is the plan."
Jones is in a unique spot. With 32 games under his belt, he's far from being an inexperienced rookie. But he's also not necessarily an established veteran quite yet, either. "In a way," he feels like a veteran.
"There are always younger guys around you, but you still working," Jones explained. "You are kind of in that middle age where there are always younger guys but the there's a lot of older guys. There are things you know and that you've experienced that you want to improve on and that you can share with the younger guys. Then obviously you are still learning from the older guys as you go."
Though he's been building his practice reps for two weeks, getting on the game field against Carolina would be the next big step in the process.
"There is nothing like playing a game," Jones said. "You are ready for that. That first step is just being out there, so I'm definitely looking forward to that."
And hoping to continue justify Harmon's "Big Play J" nickname.
"I guess have to start making some plays," Jones said with a big smile.