IRVING, Texas – Sometimes inexperience can be a good thing. It was for Byron Jones.
He didn’t know any better last year as a Dallas Cowboys rookie, having to move around from position to another from game-to-game, series-to-series or even play-to-play. He started games in the slot. He started at left cornerback. He started at right cornerback. He started at free safety.
“Honestly I was just doing what I was supposed to do and coached to do,” Jones said. “They gave me a great challenge, and I tried to step up and meet it as best I could. That was something they told me when they drafted me with me being a versatile player. That was part of the deal.”
As Jones starts his second year, the Cowboys have him focusing on one spot: safety.
“His range is really good,” defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. “He’s got good vision back there. I’m real excited to get him in a spot. We moved him around so much last year, so hopefully we get him in a position to use his talent and his vision. He is really smart.”
Jones played 870 snaps last season, second on the defense only to cornerback Brandon Carr, who played all 1,051 snaps. He was credited by the coaches with 76 tackles, two tackles for loss and 12 pass deflections.
The Cowboys hinted at the fulltime move late in 2015 when he started the final two games at free safety but kept the door open at cornerback. With the return of Orlando Scandrick from torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments that kept him out last year, the re-signing of Morris Claiborne and the retention of Brandon Carr, who accepted a paycut, the Cowboys want to give Jones every chance to succeed at safety.
Coaches like to say a player’s biggest jump comes from his rookie year to his second year.
“I guess it’s because just knowing what’s going on,” Jones said. “You have an offseason to actually train for football as opposed to training for the combine. When you come in as a rookie, you don’t have the experience of knowing what’s going on. You have a better understanding of what to expect going into that second year.”
Being able to focus on safety cuts down on the drill work he had to do last year, but he said there is also a mindset difference between the positions.
“You’ve got to know a little bit more [at safety],” Jones said. “You’ve got to understand offenses a little bit better. [At corner], it’s knowing your side or your receiver.”
If there is one thing Jones did not do last year in the myriad of jobs he had, from defending Rob Gronkowski all over the field to following big receivers and small receivers, it was intercepting a pass.
While it was a defense-wide issue last season -- the Cowboys had just eight interceptions as a team -- Jones is already thinking of one thing: his first pick.
“I’ve got to, man,” Jones said. “I’ve been work on that very hard trying to get one.”