By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Lost in the excitement of Jonathan Jones' rise late in the 2018 season is that he didn't have a full season.
Jones missed OTAs and two weeks of 2018 training camp due to a broken foot suffered in the 2017 divisional round, then soldiered through swings in his snap count. But his season culminated with 41 pivotal snaps against Tyreek Hill and the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game, then 64 snaps as mainly a safety in Super Bowl LIII against the Rams.
Now, Jones has been rewarded with a three-year extension. And more importantly, Jones looks ready to deliver career-best work.
This time Jones had a full training camp to prepare. But instead of a gradual build, he came out blazing on day one and never looked back. He regularly excelled in slot coverage and showed his special teams versatility, a combo that no one else on the roster could match.
Jones picked up right where his strong summer left off in Sunday's season-opening drubbing of the Steelers. He allowed just three catches on nine targets for 19 yards, per Pro Football Focus, and broke up two passes. Penalties nullified two other breakups for Jones, who made plays both inside and on the perimeter throughout the game.
Among Jones' highlights: an early pass breakup on a deep ball to receiver Johnny Holton; a hand on the ball in the end zone to stop a potential touchdown for rookie Diontae Johnson; a perfectly timed ball knocked out of Johnson's hands; and a disrupted route against Johnson deep down the field to wipe out any chance of a completion.
The latter play could have been an interception if Roethlisberger threw the ball closer to the vicinity of the receiver. Jones played it like the intended target - and that was deep down the sideline.
Safe to say that having a full, injury-free offseason has helped Jones flourish.
"Just being healthy this year, being able to get out there with my teammates and compete, it feels good to be out there," Jones said after the game.
Teammate Jason McCourty is excited to see Jones playing better than ever after grinding through 2018.
"He's a beast, man," McCourty said. "He works his butt off, whether it’s defense, whether it’s special teams. Last year coming back after injuring his foot the year before, and watching him now this year, and seeing how much faster he looks, how much more confident - just fun to watch.
"The way he came on last year in the AFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl, and he’s just continuing to get better."
Jones is one of the best examples of the Patriots' impressive level of readiness for the season. September often brings a slow burn, before building to a winter crescendo. Against the Steelers they hit the ground running, especially in the secondary.
One of the major reasons for their sharpness is that Jones may be the most improved player on the roster.
"It’s early, we’re still in the process," Jones said, "but we’re headed in the right direction as far as communication, everybody being on the same page, guys flying around making plays, and everybody trusting each other that everybody’s going to do their job."
Jones is most certainly doing his. He just launched a potentially special season with authority.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].