Four games into his fifth NFL season, former Auburn cornerback Jonathan Jones has gone from undrafted to a “critical” component of the New England secondary, causing Patriots coach Bill Belichick to call him “the ultimate college free agent.”
New England may need to call on Jones’ flexibility as a defensive back again on Sunday against the Denver Broncos because the Patriots will be without cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Gilmore went on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Wednesday after a positive test — the third in a week for the Patriots, who also have quarterback Cam Newton and practice-squad defensive lineman Bill Murray on the list.
Jones made New England’s roster in 2016 because of his ability on special teams. As a rookie, he was on the field for 64 defensive snaps and 307 special-teams plays. The next season, his time with the defense jumped to 439 plays and has increased every year. In 2020, Jones has played 88 percent of the Patriots’ defensive snaps.
Along the way, Jones has shown he can handle more than outside-corner duties and taken on special assignments dialed up by Belichick. During New England’s most recent Super Bowl season, Jones shadowed Kansas City Chiefs speedster Tyreek Hill in the AFC Championship Game, then switched to safety against the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII.
“When we re-signed Jon last year, that was a big step for us,” Belichick said. “Jon does a tremendous job for us for our total football team — obviously defensively, but he started out as an impact player in the kicking game. He continues to be able to do that when we need him, and he’s continued to improve defensively where he kind of started as a perimeter corner, which is probably a little more of what he did at Auburn, to really becoming more of an inside player, although he’s shown the ability to play inside and outside. But his tackling, his aggressiveness, his speed really are very valuable qualities, as well as his intelligence and his versatility to play some safety roles, as well as corner-type roles, has been a huge asset to us defensively.
“To have a fast player inside is a big advantage. A lot of the players that play in the slot now are becoming more in the mold of — obviously, Tyreek Hill’s elite, but there are a lot of faster players that are now getting played in the slot, as opposed to maybe a few years back, a lot of players inside were, I’d say, more possession receivers, guys that worked more in the short to intermediate zones. When you get a guy like Hill in there that can take the top off of the defense from in the slot, that really changes your defense and it changes the passing game offensively dramatically, so to be able to not have to substitute but be able to play the same guy in there, and regardless of who they put in that position, is a huge advantage for us, and all the versatile things that Jon can do are very valuable.
“But Jon’s got good intelligence, he’s a tough kid, he’s really a good tackler and a tough competitor. I’m glad we have him. I mean, he’s the ultimate college free agent that came in, earned a role in the kicking game, developed into a good defensive player and is having a good NFL career.”
The Patriots had no more positive tests on Thursday morning but the team continued to work remotely while preparing for Sunday’s game against the Bills.
Newton’s positive test and that of Kansas City practice-squad quarterback Jordan Ta’amu caused the NFL to postpone the Patriots-Chiefs game – but only for a day. Kansas City dropped New England to 2-2 with a 26-10 victory on Monday night.
While the Patriots and Broncos might assume they’ll square off on Sunday, the Buffalo Bills and the Tennessee Titans can’t. Week 5′s best game – at least based on the team’s records, with both undefeated – seems endangered after the Titans didn’t play their Week 4 game and continue to turn out positive COVID-19 tests.
Tennessee’s facility closed on Sept. 29, and the Titans haven’t been back since. Tennessee has nine players from its active roster on reserve/COVID-19, including the team’s fullback, former Buckhorn High School standout Khari Blasingame, and three more from the practice squad. ESPN reported the Titans had another player test positive on Thursday, which would bring the number of COVID-19 cases found in the organization since Sept. 24 to 23, including team personnel.
The NFL and the NFL Players Association are investigating how closely the Titans followed the mandated safety protocol for the coronavirus pandemic. And, apparently, some of the players got together for a practice on a Nashville high school field the day after the facility closed but before the NFL postponed Tennessee’s Week 4 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The NFL had an easy time rescheduling that game. The Titans’ open date was Oct. 25. The Steelers were scheduled to play the Baltimore Ravens on Oct. 25. Pittsburgh and Baltimore shared Nov. 1 as their open dates. Now that’s their game date, with the Steelers playing Tennessee on Oct. 25.
But the Titans are out of open dates now and haven’t practiced (officially) since Sept. 25. And buying time by pushing back the game against the Bills to Monday or Tuesday doesn’t seem feasible in this case because Buffalo plays in the Week 6 Thursday night game, squaring off against the Chiefs on Oct. 15.
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The Alabama Game of the Week matches the Indianapolis Colts and Cleveland Browns. The teams have 11 players from state high schools and colleges on their active rosters.
The complete Week 5 schedule (with all times Central and with point spreads from vegasinsider.com):
· Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3.5) at Chicago Bears, 7:20 p.m. (FOX, NFL Network, Amazon Prime)
· Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons (-2), noon (WBRC, WZDX, WALA, WCOV, WDFX)
· Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens (-13), noon
· Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans (-6), noon
· Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs (-13), noon (WIAT, WKRG, WAKA, WTVY)
· Arizona Cardinals (-7) at New York Jets, noon
· Philadelphia Eagles at Pittsburgh Steelers (-7), noon
· Buffalo Bills (-1) at Tennessee Titans, noon (WHNT)
· Los Angeles Rams (-7) at Washington Football Team, noon
· Miami Dolphins at San Francisco 49ers (-3.5), 3:05 p.m.
· Indianapolis Colts (-1.5) at Cleveland Browns, 3:25 p.m.
· New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys (-9.5), 3:25 p.m. (WIAT, WHNT, WKRG, WAKA, WTVY)
· Denver Broncos at New England Patriots (-5), 3:25 p.m.
· Minnesota Vikings at Seattle Seahawks (-7), 7:20 p.m. (NBC)
· Los Angeles Chargers at New Orleans Saints (-7.5), 7:15 p.m. (ESPN)
The Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers have open dates this week.
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Mark Inabinett is a sports reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter at @AMarkG1.
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