Cyrus Jones won’t be taking part in Alabama’s A-Day Game Saturday. He hasn’t participated in any practice this spring after undergoing surgery for a torn labrum (ligament in the hip) on Jan. 12. The injury was diagnosed last June, too late for corrective action prior to the season, so he played through it. “I just had to deal with it through the season,” he said.
While his teammates practice, Jones and fellow defender, linebacker Denzel Devall, are on the sidelines, riding stationary bicycles as they rehabilitate.
And Jones has been watching his teammates.
Jones admitted there was a time in his sophomore year when perhaps he thought of himself as a wide receiver playing cornerback. “When I made the transition my sophomore year, I was trying to feel my way around, like I was playing unconfident, still not sure what I was supposed to be doing as far as the defense goes,” he said. “It definitely hindered me as far as being able to just go out there and play fast and with confidence. If you don’t have confidence playing corner, you just can’t do it. It’s impossible.”
As his junior year progressed in Bama’s SEC championship season, Jones made obvious improvement. He had 46 tackles (including two for loss), forced two fumbles, turned in three interceptions he returned for 27 yards, and broke up a team-high 13 passes.
Against Ole Miss he had a highlight film play, forcing a fumble, then scooping up the ball and going 17 yards for a touchdown.
Most notable, in the last half of the year he was rarely challenged by opposing offenses. When he was, it was to their peril. He broke up a fourth down pass in the end zone to secure Bama's overtime victory over LSU. He intercepted Mississippi State's Dak Prescott in the end zone in the fourth quarter of Bama's win over the No. 1 ranked Bulldogs.
His injury was a secret during the season. He said he was monitored throughout the summer, held out of some running drills, doing alternative conditioning exercises. During the year he received “various types of treatment to counterbalance the pain where I would be okay during games.
“It was definitely a lot of pain and irritation. But it wasn't too strenuous. The treatment helped to maintain it well so it made it possible for me to go out there and play."
He said he probably has “a couple of more months until I’m full 100 per cent. I'm just taking my time with it, not trying to rush anything because I don't want to get back out there and have a setback right away."
Jones said his transition to cornerback is complete. “Now I know what I can do, and I know my abilities, and I know the defense. Now it’s just up to me to just go out there and play and prove everyone wrong who has something bad to say about it.
“I’m a guy who is super, super competitive. I take a lot of pride in my play. I know criticism is something you have to let go in one ear and out the other, but it’s hard when you’re constantly hearing the same things, whether it’s personally or with your group, my group being the secondary.
“It’s definitely something the secondary takes personally. We have a point to prove, and that’s why we’re going out there – and those guys out there are working hard right now to come out and try to prove their point when it’s time to get back there on the field. And I know when I come back I’m going to be ready to prove all the doubters wrong. It’s definitely personally to me.”
Jones likes what he’s seen of the defensive backs this spring. He also thinks the way the season ended last year with a loss to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl in the semifinal round of the College Football Playoff has contributed to the effort.
He said, “I think anytime a season doesn’t end like you want it to, it always gives you that extra motivation going into that next time you get on the field. You don’t want to have that feeling again, so you prepare yourself that much more. When it comes time and we’re in a position as we were last year, that we’re even more ready since we’re going to go through the same kind of things.”
Alabama did not have its usual success on third down plays in 2014, allowing 82 conversions on 217 opportunities (38 per cent). “I think everyone on the defensive side of the ball is taking a big look to see what we can do to improve our third down percentage in getting off the field. It’s a team effort, and the coaches are trying to scheme us up to put us in the right position so we can be effective on that down.”
A new member of the team is Mel Tucker, who came from being defensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears to coaching in the Crimson Tide secondary. Jones likes the addition. “That’s definitely a blessing, having somebody of his caliber and having as much knowledge as he does coming from the NFL background and just his experience. And also being a guy that was under Coach Saban for a number of years and is familiar with how he likes to do things. He's definitely a good guy to have around. I'm just taking advantage of kind of picking his brain and trying to just get better off the field and in the film room since I'm not out there practicing with the guys."
As would be expected of a veteran, Jones said he is there for his teammates, helping them understand the defense. “I’m trying to do whatever I can do to help the younger guys out, especially guys just coming in and trying to make that transition from high school to college."
Jones said he likes what he’s seen of the secondary. “I’m seeing a lot of guys going out there and competing, taking advantage of the reps, and just trying to get out there and get better. They're taking coaching well, and I just think when I get back out there, it's just going to be that much more fun, just being a part of it and not having to sit on the side and watch."
Jones joins the chorus of admiration for true freshman Ronnie Harrison, who has come in at a safety spot. “The freshman is impressing me a lot,” Jones said. “He’s showing a lot of instinctiveness out there. He's still getting it mentally, and that's going to take time, but he's definitely a football player.”
Jones also likes the move of Eddie Jackson from cornerback to safety. “Eddie is a very natural football player,” Jones said. “He’s one of those guys you can probably put anywhere on the football field and he’s going to look like he’s been playing it the whole season just because of how good an athlete he is and how easily he makes transitions. I think he looks real good.”
Jones agreed with Coach Nick Saban that some young cornerback show promise, men like Tony Brown, Marlon Humphrey, and Anthony Averett. “It’s definitely a process at corner here, and you can see the transition they have made from their first year to now. They definitely look like they are more comfortable with the defense and look more instinctive, doing less thinking because they know the position better. They are going out there and using their athletic gifts and making it that much better.”
Jones said his spring on the bicycle “has been bittersweet. I really would like to be out there with the guys, getting better. It's hard to sit on the side and kind of watch them going out and competing and just working to our ultimate goal, which is to be the best that we can come the first game. It's hard in that aspect.
“But I'm enjoying the rest time, too, just taking my time to get back from my injury."