Byron Jones hasn’t generated much buzz in training camp so far.
He hasn’t flashed as much as others in training camp.
But flying under the radar isn’t necessarily a bad thing for last year’s first-round pick. Jones has shown enough to impress the Dallas Cowboys’ coaching staff and has kept a stranglehold on the starting free safety spot over J.J. Wilcox.
“Byron has been great,” secondary coach Joe Baker said. “A lot of times production at defensive back is, ‘Did the ball come at you or not?’
“He hasn’t made a lot of picks because they haven’t thrown it to him. But you can see him covering grass and covering receivers in the back end.”
Jones has yet to force a takeaway in camp. He also didn’t have a takeaway last season.
But Jones is a rangy and athletic talent who has as much upside as any player on the Cowboys’ roster. The hope is that he develops into one of the top safeties in the game, and he couldn’t ask for a better situation than being with the Cowboys.
Jones gets to hone his skills against one of the top tight ends in the game, Jason Witten, on a daily basis. And Witten will get the best of Jones at times, such as during a compete drill in front of the team last week.
Witten put on a nifty double move, creating at least four yards of separation from Jones and hauled in an easy pass by quarterback Dak Prescott.
I don’t really focus on what’s going on the outside. On the inside for us, we all have high expectations regardless if you’re a first-year player going into your second year, or a seventh-year player going into your eighth year.
Second-year safety Byron Jones
Jones could only smile and shake his head recalling the play.
“He’s 34, but I’m telling you the guy can run some routes,” Jones said. “You find out the hard way. It’s great fun, though, we battle every day. We go back and forth. Sometimes he wins, sometimes I get the win. But he got the best of me [in that drill].”
The work against Witten has paid off in game situations.
Jones made a favorable impression early last season with how he defended New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, holding the All-Pro to four catches for 67 yards in Week 5.
And he’s made a few plays in camp, particularly in a goal-line situation in which he sniffed out a run by Darius Jackson perfectly last week.
“Just show up in the right gap and the ball is going to come right to you, and that’s what happened there,” Jones said. “I made the tackle and had guys who had my back and I got their back. That’s what it is.”
Those types of plays are why the Cowboys are more comfortable going with Jones at free safety instead of Wilcox. Wilcox has the ability to deliver a big hit, but took too many bad angles to the ball and wasn’t productive enough.
Jones, 23, has potential to flourish into something special.
“I don’t really focus on what’s going on on the outside,” Jones said. “On the inside for us, we all have high expectations regardless if you’re a first-year player going into your second year, or a seventh-year player going into your eighth year. We all have high expectations of taking the ball away and playing smart defense.”
Jones has benefited this year by focusing strictly on safety instead of bouncing between safety and cornerback as he did last season. He also had a better off-season in terms of eating right and preparing for the season.
Jones added about 5-7 pounds in the off-season to get him up to around 200 pounds, and has stuck to a diet of eating 80 percent clean and 20 percent “whatever you want.” For Jones, the “whatever you want” includes things such as gummy bears, candy and cookies.
Jones joked that he’ll sometimes have steak with a side of gummy bears. The amateur chef hasn’t mastered how to cook sides quite yet.
“I feel more comfortable out there,” Jones said. “I feel faster. I’ve got an idea of what the speed is like, so I’m hoping that translates over into the game.”
Added coach Jason Garrett: “It’s good to see him in that [safety] spot just playing it and not moving around quite as much as he did last year for us. He’ll grow more and more the more stable he is in the position that he plays. And you see him making strides every day.”