This week, Sidney Jones can start working on the field with his Eagles teammates, under the terms governing the NFL’s Non-Football Injury List, or NFI, for the first time since being drafted in last spring’s second round.
We don’t know that will happen; the Eagles have been pretty mysterious about Jones’ status, and he has not commented to reporters. He recently posted, then deleted, a tweet with the number 7 and three red exclamation points, presumably for this week, NFL Week 7.
Coach Doug Pederson has stressed that the Eagles won’t rush Jones’ recovery, and a source close to the situation said last week that Jones remained “not close” to practicing. The Eagles have six weeks from this week to activate him from NFI. Once he is activated, they have three weeks to add him to the roster. If that time passes without activation, he reverts to injured reserve and his season is over.
The league source said Sunday that Jones probably is several weeks away from getting back the “explosion” a cornerback needs. The source said he thinks December might be a more reasonable time to expect Jones to be fully functional, which would push the NFI window to its maximum and would raise the possibility that Jones won’t play at all this year. Especially if the defense continues to function as well as it has during the team’s 5-1 start.
Pederson said last week, without providing details, that Jones is “right on track, physically.”
Jones, 21, is eager to get going, said Jimmy Lake, Jones’ defensive backs coach at the University of Washington. Jones has sent Lake videos of himself running.
“He’s told me numerous times that they don’t want to rush anything,” Lake said. “He is ready to go. But I know they don’t want to force the issue. It sounds like they’re doing it the right way; they don’t want to just throw him out there and he injures something else because he’s not in shape.”
When Jones is able to play, Lake said, fans “are going to see a physical corner, a corner that is completely technically sound. He has very good ball skills – he plays the ball in the air just tremendously … you’re going to see a guy who tracks the ball well.
“He was a wide receiver in high school, and a punt returner, and a kickoff returner. Very, very natural ball skills … You’re going to see an exciting player, he’s a playmaker.”
As most fans know, Jones was on track to be a high first-round pick before he tore his left Achilles tendon March 11, at Washington’s pro day. He underwent surgery March 21. The fact that he was at least several months away from being healthy allowed the Eagles to wait until the second round to draft him.
Jones has lived a strange existence through training camp and these first six weeks of the season – present but silent when reporters were around, traveling to road games, watching from the sideline in a tracksuit like the inactive players on the 53-member roster. Jones was right there late Thursday night in the Bank of America Stadium visitors’ locker room, showering and dressing in the defensive backs’ area while, behind him, Malcolm Jenkins, Jalen Mills and others were interviewed about the Eagles’ 28-23 victory.
“Here’s a guy that was expected to go top 15. When he blew that thing out, a lot of guys would have gone in the tank … He just took it in stride and said, ‘OK, here’s the challenge. I’m going to overcome it,’ ” Lake said. “He’s handled this thing exactly the way you’d want somebody to handle it. Right now, I check up on him, he’s like, ‘Coach, I’m doing this, I’m doing that, I’m doing my rehab, I’m doing everything they asked me to do.’
“For him to be around the team the way he is – that’s Sidney Jones right there, too. Other guys, they might be sitting at home with their girlfriend playing PlayStation or something. This guy wants to be around football. I guarantee, he is itching and scratching and cannot wait for the Eagles to activate him, so that he can go out there and show all those Eagle fans why they drafted him.”
Lake coached in the NFL with Tampa Bay and Detroit, as well as for several colleges. Ronde Barber and Aquib Talib are among the corners he has tutored. But Lake said the player Jones reminds him of the most is another Washington alum.
“With his instincts and his ball skills, I would compare him to Marcus Peters,” Lake said. Peters, drafted 18th overall in the first round in 2015 by Kansas City, made the Pro Bowl both of his first two NFL seasons.
Lake recruited Jones out of West Covina, Calif., High. They forged a close relationship.
“What really set him apart from a lot of guys I have coached is that he was always preparing like a professional as a freshman,” Lake said. “Taking notes, asking very intelligent questions – questions that were above and beyond what the defense was asking him to do. He was very inquisitive; he wanted to know who was doing what, and why.
“He lived in my office. The other guys would rib him – there would be something I was trying to teach to the rest of the group, and I would always have a clip of Sidney doing it perfectly. As soon as I’d show the clip, it’d be all like ‘Oh, Sidney Lake!’ … I’d have all the DBs over [to Lake’s home] and they’re like, ‘Where’s Sidney’s room?’
“It’d seem like it got under his skin a little bit, but he actually started taking pride with it. He took pride in being smart with the defense and executing things.”
When Jones last spoke at length to reporters, back in May, he acknowledged that sitting through a film session was “kind of burning me inside,” even then.
“Everybody’s being coached up, and I’m not being coached up. I just have to watch the other guys do their stuff. It’s hard, but it’s a process,” Jones said that day. “You’ll learn patience from going through this.”