A year ago, Cyrus Jones was in his first season at cornerback for Alabama after having played wide receiver as a true freshman for the 2012 national championship team. Jones, a 5-10, 194-pound all-around athlete from Baltimore, had been a five-star signee as a receiver.
At the end of his first season, Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban suggested Jones might be better on the defensive side. Jones said, “He approached me after my freshman year, after the fall. He asked me if it was something I wanted to do. I said, ‘If you think I can help the team, I’ll be fine with it.’”
Jones made the move, went through 2013 spring practice at corner, and then in the fall – in part because of injuries to others and in part because Bama was not getting strong cornerback play from more experienced players – Jones ended up playing in 11 games, including starting in five games beginning with the game against Tennessee.
But he was spotlighted in the loss to Auburn.
Nevertheless, the man who knows more about it than almost anyone – Saban – saw Jones making great progress as a cornerback.
Saban said Jones “had a really good camp and really matured as a player, much more confidant this year than a year ago. And he has played really well. I think he has a good understanding, and is a smart guy. Has the poise to adjust. We thought he really did a good job [in the Tide’s 33-23 win over West Virginia in the season-opening game].”
Jones did a good enough job that he was selected as one of the players of the game by the Bama coaching staff.
Jones was in on seven tackles (four primary) and broke up a pass.
The broken up pass came in the end zone shortly after he had been switched to cover Kevin White, who was West Virginia’s top threat in the game. The 6-3 White had nine catches for 143 yards and a touchdown, but only one of those receptions – for only three yards – came after Jones switched to covering him in the fourth quarter.
The pass break-up came on a fade route early in the fourth quarter with Alabama holding on to a 30-20 lead. The Mountaineers had to settle for a field goal.
Saban said, “I think he played really, really well. He made two big plays inside the 10-yard line. He was the one guy that consistently did what he was supposed to do in the secondary, and did a good job of covering. He didn't give up many plays. When they kept going to No. 11 (White), we actually flip-flopped Cyrus to No. 11. The last time we stopped them, Cyrus was covering the guy on the fade pattern and batted the ball down.”
Jones took his honor in stride. “I think I played all right,” he said. “I definitely have a lot more work to do, just like everyone else on the defense.”
But, he added, “The fade was definitely my favorite play, because I knew what they were going to do. We talked about it in the huddle. And to go out and make a play for my team definitely felt good.”
His self-assessment of his play since switching to cornerback echoes Saban’s. “I think I’ve matured a lot as a player,” he said. “ I go about my preparation a lot more vigorously and I’m more comfortable with the playbook. I think anytime you’re comfortable with the playbook it helps you play fast on the field because you’re not really thinking as much. I think the fact I don’t have to think about it as much is definitely helping me.”
Jones said he was not completely unfamiliar with cornerback play before making the switch a little over a year ago. He had played defense in high school.
Each week on defense he has gained more knowledge and with that knowledge, Saban says, comes confidence.
“Confidence is definitely a big thing for a corner because you’re out there so far from anyone else and you’re in the spotlight against some of the best receivers in the country,” Jones said. “I think definitely when you get plays made on you you’ve got to have confidence to say, ‘Okay, I’ll get him next time,’ and keep fighting throughout the game.”
Jones said the most important thing he has learned from Saban about playing cornerback is “using your eyes and looking at the right things. I think a lot of times corner people have their eyes on the wrong things and I think that’s how you get out of position and get behind in certain plays. Definitely eye control.”
He likes being coached by Saban. “It’s great,” Jones said. “You’re learning from a guy who has a lot of knowledge. There’s definitely a lot of pressure to take everything he says and study it and use it in a game.”
Jones was asked if Saban had come down hard on the secondary after West Virginia had 365 yards of passing offense against the Tide.
Jones startled reporters when he said, “Coach Saban is not really a type of guy to jump you when you do something wrong."
Jones continued, “He’s going to pinpoint where we can get better, where we can improve, but I don’t think he was too upset. We’ve always got room for improvement whether we give up 100 yards or 300 yards. I don’t think he’s ever going to be satisfied, and I don’t think we as a defense should be satisfied either.”