The snaps rookie cornerback Sidney Jones played Sunday weren’t highlight-film stuff. Jones was credited with a couple of tackles, didn’t give up any big completions. Played press on Dez Bryant a few times and lived to tell the tale. Came in at too shallow an angle on an Ezekiel Elliott run and saw Elliott zip outside him for a 16-yard gain. Was lucky Dak Prescott overthrew Terrance Williams after Jones bit on a slant-and-go.
But if you’ve been following the Jones saga since the day the Eagles got him as a second-round draft bargain because a projected high first-round talent was rehabbing a torn left Achilles tendon, you know Sunday was a big day, for Jones and possibly for the future of the Eagles.
“Definitely worth the wait. It’s been a long journey,” Jones said afterward. “I worked so hard to get here.”
Jones said this impassively, which is kind of how he says everything. But the emotion was there, somewhere.
“You could see it in his face at pregame – he was big-eyed,” fellow corner Jaylen Watkins said.
“Just stay calm, relaxed, because I was a little juiced before it,” Jones said when asked if any teammates had offered advice for his long-awaited NFL debut, which took place a year to the day from his final college game, Washington’s playoff loss to Alabama.
“You can’t even describe it,” he said. “It’s a whole bunch of nerves and juices going. Good juices. It’s a blessing.”
Right after undergoing surgery in March, Jones vowed to play this season. That talk ended when the Eagles drafted him – they wanted the focus to be on getting healthy, and didn’t set any deadlines, but the Eagles wrapped up a playoff berth a while ago and started to think about the season finale as a good place to take a look at a player they hope will be a long-term starter.
Jones, who played mostly on the outside, looked very natural in his stance. Long, thin legs at 6-foot, 181. Graceful strides. Bare arms in defiance of the weather for this meaningless regular-season finale against Dallas, 19 degrees at kickoff with a 17-mph northwest wind that made it feel like 3 degrees.
“I just gotta get used to coming downhill again and making the play,” Jones said, when asked about the Elliott run. “It’ll come. Definitely.”
Will it come in time for him to help the team in this season’s playoff run? Hard to say off Sunday. You could make a case that Jones looked better than Rasul Douglas, the third-round rookie who was victimized a couple of times during the only scoring drive of the day, Douglas ultimately giving up the 20-yard Prescott touchdown pass to Brice Butler that saved the fans who stuck it out into the fourth quarter from the crushing boredom of a 0-0 overtime game.
Jones played jammer on punt return; now that he’s healthy, he’s certainly capable of doing that in the postseason, whether he has all the rust sanded off or not.
“Outside of the one double move, it appeared like he played pretty well,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “He held up pretty good there and did some nice things” before leaving at the end of the third quarter with cramping issues. “We wanted to see where he was in game situations.”
The Eagles made sure Jones was in every meeting, traveled to every game, before starting the clock three weeks ago on the time he could practice before needing to join the roster or go on injured reserve, where he couldn’t practice or play. That clock would have expired Wednesday, but the team put linebacker Joe Walker (neck) on IR last Friday, and it officially added Jones to the 53 on Saturday.
“Every week, I prepared like I was playing,” Jones said.
“It’s tough to stay engaged when you aren’t on the film, especially for months on end,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said of Jones. “The biggest thing was just trying to keep him engaged, trying to continue to teach him about the game, offenses, situations. But none of it is probably like the actual real thing, so it was good to see him out there.”
“I did a little bit of everything, so that was good,” said Jones, who worked at least a bit from the slot and played both man and zone coverages.
“I watched him a lot, felt like he did good,” said safety Rodney McLeod, who was among the Eagles’ inactives. “Came in and did his job well. … Didn’t back down at all.”