FOXBOROUGH - Patriots defensive back Nate Jones knows there are plenty of free agents waiting for a call to return to the NFL. Just nine days ago, he was one of them.
Jones was cut by the Dolphins Oct. 5, and waited for a team to give him a chance to continue his eight-year career. While Jones waited, he prepared.
“A lot of us still feel like we can play, so it’s on you as a professional to stay in shape and do what you have to do, what you need to do, and as an older guy you know what your body needs to stay in shape, stay on top of things,’’ said the 29-year-old Jones. “I have faith in God and my beliefs. I just turned it over to him. It wasn’t the end of the world, but it was a position I had never been in and it was a position a lot of veterans had never been in.
“There’s a lot of good players who are not playing football right now. But again, I’m fortunate to be here and I’m trying to take advantage of the opportunity and bring to this team whatever I can bring.’’
Four days after Jones signed with the Patriots, he started at safety in last Sunday’s 31-24 victory over the Colts. Jones finished with nine tackles, playing a significant amount of snaps.
The Patriots went with a few new faces against the Colts, with receiver Matthew Slater making his first NFL start at safety, and Nick McDonald earning his first start NFL start at center. But Jones was unique in that he had days to learn his responsibilities in a new system.
“I thought Nate did a good job,’’ said coach Bill Belichick. “I mean, he wasn’t even familiar with what we were doing, so he had a steeper learning curve, but he’s a more experienced player, so there’s a trade-off there. [He] played the defenses pretty well, was good in communication, got his hands on a couple balls, made a few plays. It was far from perfect, but I thought he did a good job.’’
There was plenty for the Patriots to like about Jones, who was drafted by the Cowboys in the seventh round in 2004 out of Rutgers. His introduction to the NFL came under the guidance of Bill Parcells.
Jones played for the Cowboys from 2004-07, and with the Dolphins in 2008-09. He was cut by the Dolphins last season and picked up by the Broncos, but was released during camp this year, only to be re-signed by the Dolphins Sept. 20. He played two games before he again was released.
“Nate’s played a lot of football,’’ said Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio. “He was somebody that we were familiar with having played against him, even in Dallas. He’s an experienced player, had some position versatility, pretty smart guy, pretty instinctive guy.’’
Those instincts showed up immediately with the Patriots.
“He knows the game and he was able to come in here and learn extremely fast,’’ said Patriots safety James Ihedigbo. “He played at such a high level and I have nothing but respect for him. He’s such a great player.’’
As the Patriots prepare for Sunday’s game against the Redskins, Jones, who has played in 102 games in the NFL, is relieved to have a game, and a full week of practice, behind him.
“With itineraries and schedules, a lot going on, but as a professional you learn to manage everything,’’ he said. “A week under the belt feels good, a win feels good. Now I’ve got to go out and just repeat everything and get another win this weekend.’’
Aside from learning the scheme, Jones said there are other challenges with joining a team so late in the season.
“[It’s] simple things like learning all the guys’ names, communicating, and being on time to everything, and knowing where I have to be,’’ he said. “These are all things that come with the territory. So, you have to take it one game at a time.’’Monique Walker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @monwalker.