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No sense of entitlement for top pick Cyrus Jones

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Few people know better than Poggi where Jones' skills will serve him best, and where he needs to improve the most, at this highest level of the game.

"Well, he played Alpha corner for Nick, so, when you play that and draw the [opponent's] best receiver and you don't have a lot of safety help, he is an awesome cover corner. I think he'll do well there and in the special teams game.

"An area I think he really needs to improve," Poggi acknowledged, "and it sometimes frustrates me when I watch him, is he needs to tackle better and be more physical against the run. But I think he's going to compete at a very high level at corner. It's going to take some time, but he's going to be a premier cover guy. That's what he was at 'Bama.

"He's so bright naturally, but his athletic IQ is unbelievable. He knows what he's supposed to do, where he's supposed to line up, how everyone else is supposed to line up. If he's playing you in checkers, he's going to give you his best effort."

If he's as good as advertised, checkers might be the only thing the Patriots don't ask Jones to play.

*This article came from the May 2016 issue of Patriots Football Weekly. *

The sun had long since set. Everyone was wiped out and ready to go home after a long summer day and night. No doubt, the mosquitos had begun to bite. 

Biff Poggi and several other high school football coaches had just finished conducting a combine for youth players in the Baltimore area. There was only one thing left to do. The lights illuminating the football field needed to be turned off, so he headed over to flip the switch. Before he could get there, one of his assistants rushed over to stop him.

"This one kid isn't leaving," he told Poggi, the head coach at Gilman, a prestigious country day prep school and perennial pigskin powerhouse that is often nationally ranked.

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"I said, 'What do you mean? I'm turning the lights off,'" Poggi recalled. His assistant persisted, "This kid's not leaving till you watch him run." 

"So, I said, 'OK, bring him over, let's set some cones up,'" Poggi continued, and to his delight and astonishment, the small sixth-grader could fly. 

"That's what I remember about him. The first thing I remember about him."

That was a decade ago. Just last month, that same tenacious little boy, now a more mature young man, was the first player chosen by the New England Patriots in the draft.

Cyrus Jones' initial importunity notwithstanding, he is a naturally shy, reserved person, according to Poggi. Except on the football field.  

"He's been very consistent in his willingness to compete, and I can't stress that word enough," added Poggi, "because in a world of entitlement - which we are rocketing toward today in all facets of our society - true competitors,  people that want to compete and earn things, are very rare. 

"He's learned to harness his competitiveness, which is virtually off-the-charts, into positives, instead of self-destructiveness. Instead of becoming downcast if he doesn't do well, he turns it now into motivation to compete at the highest level. He would count his own catches and drops during practice and keep track of them for his whole career. He wanted to compete every day. He loved practice."

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With no first-round draft choice this year, the Patriots first opportunity to make a selection came in the second round, at No. 60 overall. That's where they plucked Jones from a familiar place - collegiate juggernaut Alabama, whose head coach, Nick Saban, is close friends with New England's Bill Belichick.

Poggi, too, has developed a personal relationship with Saban, in part because his Gilman program annually sends so many players to top-flight programs like Alabama. So, even though Jones has been away from his hometown of Baltimore for the past several years, his former coach has still kept close tabs on him.

"I watch him play probably most of his games. If I don't see it live, I'll watch on tape. So, I see quite a bit."

And how has he seen his once introverted young player evolve over the past 10 years?

"He's learned to be the face of a program at Gilman and at Alabama. He's had to get outside of his comfort zone, his natural preferences. He had to learn all the leadership roles you need on a team or in a community. He's allowed people to get to know him better. That's made social situations easier for him, which is important, and it wasn't easy for him. 

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"He's also a freak athlete," Poggi observed. "And in the kicking game, he'll have an immediate impact."

At Alabama, where Jones began his career as a wide receiver, he was converted to cornerback as a sophomore while also blossoming into a gifted punt return specialist. The Patriots top scout, director of player personnel Nick Caserio, made note of this in his first public comments after Jones was drafted.

"Versatile player, played [cornerback] on the perimeter mostly at Alabama, was a very effective punt returner, had four punt-return touchdowns his senior season. [He] has really good ball skills, really good with the ball in his hands as a returner, kind of has some position versatility and has additional value on fourth down.

"The thing that tipped the scales in Cyrus' favor a little bit was his overall versatility - punt return - that's a huge component of what we do and we thought he had the ability. So, to be a punt returner and to play [corner], we'll see where he can actually play."

"I think he had a good college career," Patriots cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer pointed out. "He's competitive, he's tough. I'm excited to get him in here and see how he fits in the mix. It'll be an adjustment process. He has a way to go to catch up to the other guys who've been here, but we'll see how it goes."

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Few people know better than Poggi where Jones' skills will serve him best, and where he needs to improve the most, at this highest level of the game.

"Well, he played Alpha corner for Nick, so, when you play that and draw the [opponent's] best receiver and you don't have a lot of safety help, he is an awesome cover corner. I think he'll do well there and in the special teams game.

"An area I think he really needs to improve," Poggi acknowledged, "and it sometimes frustrates me when I watch him, is he needs to tackle better and be more physical against the run. But I think he's going to compete at a very high level at corner. It's going to take some time, but he's going to be a premier cover guy. That's what he was at 'Bama.

"He's so bright naturally, but his athletic IQ is unbelievable. He knows what he's supposed to do, where he's supposed to line up, how everyone else is supposed to line up. If he's playing you in checkers, he's going to give you his best effort."

If he's as good as advertised, checkers might be the only thing the Patriots don't ask Jones to play.

*This article came from the May 2016 issue of Patriots Football Weekly. *

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