It was just one practice, one without pads and no tackling and a lot of players running on and off the field to make sure it was, indeed, 11-on-11, but it was also very hard to watch the Eagles open their Organized Team Activities on Tuesday in the bubble at the NovaCare Complex and not come away impressed with Sidney Jones.
Jones, the second-year cornerback who spent most of his rookie season rehabbing from a torn Achilles tendon suffered in his University of Washington Pro Day about six weeks before the NFL Draft, flew around the field on Tuesday. He was all over the football, seeing action in the slot as the nickel cornerback, sticking to receivers like glue and showing his athleticism and explosiveness with a leaping, high-point interception of a Nick Foles deep pass.
Sidney Jones is back. Believe that. He handled his situation with remarkable grace, dignity, and an incredibly great work ethic last season. He was patient. And then playing against Dallas for 29 snaps, well, that marked another step forward in his incredible journey.
"It was an important moment for me to get the rust off and just get a taste of game speed," he said. "It meant a lot to me. I was on the border – am I going to play or not? But I was ready. Just getting my feet wet before I actually started playing this year was a really good experience for me."
Jones said he knows the scheme "inside and out," having attended all the meetings and watching from the sidelines during practice. The mental part, the visualization, the classroom reps – Jones has it all down stone cold. Having a full practice like he did on Tuesday and then coming back for another few weeks is where he's going to rapidly gain confidence and knock off that rust.
A year after the Eagles selected him in the second round of the draft, Jones is a rookie in game experience but a second-year pro who knows the ropes of the NFL game in every other way. He's always been an advocate of film study, so learning that part of the game was nothing new. Being able to apply it at the highest level, that's where Jones is now. Full go. Feeling great, with nothing holding him back.
"It's just a blessing to be back out there. I can't take anything for granted," Jones said. "I have high expectations, tip top. My teammates hold me accountable and I do, too. There were highs and lows last year but I always tried to keep it positive. Life happens. Injuries happen. Just move forward. How are you going to move forward from here? Adversity hits, what are you going to do? That's the way I look at everything. It became the best scenario for me. I came here and we won the Super Bowl.
"I have high expectations for myself. Proving it to everybody else, too. I was rated highly last year and didn't get a chance to show it. So I'm back."
As Jones looks back on 2017 – from the time he was drafted all the way through the Parade of Champions during which Jones dropped his phone and found it via a fan who contacted Jones on Instagram – he was most impressed by his handling of the tough times. Imagine how crushed he was when he went down with an injury, losing what could have been a top 10-15 draft position and instead drifting all the way to the middle of the second round (No. 47 overall).
But Jones didn't waver, and he's better for it on the other side.
"I'm a playmaker. Ballplayer," Jones said.
He showed it on Tuesday. He was the "buzz" player in coverage and he made the pick on an underthrown ball that was intended for wide receiver Nelson Agholor. The defense went wild. One of their brothers made a spectacular play, and they all knew the work he put in to get to that point.
"It was great to see," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "Sidney has worked really hard. He put in all that time last year. We saw the effort he made, and now it's paying off. He's a tremendous athlete and he's going to work hard to be a great player. I think he's got a great career in front of him. We're all pulling for Sidney."
There are many steps ahead for Jones. He's part of a talented, competitive cornerback room, and just because Jones had a first-day crack at nickel cornerback – with Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby on the outside – doesn't mean he won't get reps outside, too. This much is certain, and it was very evident on Tuesday: Jones has special skills. He was projected as a first-round pick for a reason. He's healthy, he's happy, and Sidney Jones is on the right road to make an impact in the Eagles' defense in 2018.