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After rough rookie year, Cyrus Jones catches momentum for Patriots

Cyrus Jones #41 of the New England Patriots runs against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first half of a preseason game at Gillette Stadium on August 10, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)Getty Images

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FOXBOROUGH — Cyrus Jones has returned punts and kicks as long as he can remember. His electrifying speed earned him a scholarship at Alabama, where he asserted himself as one of the most dynamic return men in the country.

He led the nation with 530 punt return yards (12.6 per return) and four touchdowns in 2015-16. the Patriots drafted the nickelback with the 60th overall pick in the 2016 draft.

But they didn’t get what they hoped out of Jones in his rookie season. He failed to climb the depth chart. And despite accumulating only 19 punt and kickoff returns, Jones fumbled five times, three of which resulted in turnovers.

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Bill Belichick deactivated Jones for the playoffs after he played in 10 regular-season games.

Any way you slice it, Jones struggled immensely last year. And even though he tried tuning out the detractors, Jones admits his rookie year didn’t turn out the way he had hoped.

“[I am] trying not to think about last year, but obviously it happened,” Jones said. “It was tough, but I can’t do anything about it now. It’s gone. [I am] just trying to do what I got to not feel that way that way again and not make those same mistakes.”

Jones has worked on improving during camp. Throughout the first week of camp, Jones devoted about 10 minutes to fielding punts.

But his performance in the preseason opener was a continuation of last year.

The Jaguars’ Chad Henne hit Keelan Cole and burned Jones on a 97-yard passing touchdown in the second quarter. Then was part of a blown coverage on Dede Westbrook’s 42-yard touchdown late in the third quarter. He produced only 19.5 yards during six kickoffs and failed to gain a yard in his lone punt return.

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The Patriots returned to NRG Stadium in Houston, where they pulled off the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history less than seven months prior. Jones wasn’t a part of that experience. But he played Saturday, and bounced back, showing the type of electric play-making ability the Patriots hoped to see last year.

On his first punt return, Jones hurdled an oncoming tackler, navigated another pack of defenders, and switched fields for a 32-yard gain.

His teammates showered Jones on the sideline with claps and helmet taps.

“It just shows how unselfish everybody is,” Jones said about the greeting. “Guys are more happy when somebody else makes a play than the person who makes the play. That’s the culture of this team.”

Jones finished the game with 58 yards on four punt returns, and added a 17-yard kickoff return. It was a much-needed performance, as Jones fights for a spot on the 53-man roster.

The Patriots signed three undrafted free agent cornerbacks in the offseason. Jonathan Jones and Justin Coleman will also challenge Jones for a spot.

Jones has taken all but one punt return in both preseason games, a positive sign that the Patriots haven’t lost faith, and may deploy him as their primary return man this season.

With a little more than two weeks left until the season opener, Jones said he isn’t where he wants to be, but he has progressed from a painful rookie season.

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“I am a little more comfortable than I was last year, and the more I am out there, the higher my confidence level will be,” Jones said. “I am just going to keep moving forward and making strides, and try to be that player I know I can be.”

Show of support

More players around the league are showing solidarity during the national anthem. On Monday night, a group of nearly 10 Browns players kneeled in a huddle, while several more placed their hands on those players’s shoulders.

None of the current Patriots have demonstrated yet, but Devin McCourty has noticed the traction the movement is gaining.

“I don’t know; we’ll see, “McCourty said when asked about holding a similar protest. “I’ve thought about it and how to get involved and how to help, but we’ll see.”

McCourty’s twin brother, Jason, a cornerback for the Browns, was part of the contingent that held the silent protest Monday.

Cleveland’s protest wasn’t only notable for the number of players involved, but it also marked the first time a white player, Seth Devalve, kneeled. Eagles defensive end Chris Long put his arm around teammate Malcolm Jenkins’s shoulder last week.

McCourty sees the progression as a positive sign.

“I think people’s minds are more open in trying to understand exactly what guys are trying to say and not just I think coming up with their own justification of what guys are trying to portray,” McCourty said. “I think it’s great — very encouraging to see guys stand up for different things they believe in.”

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Separate track

The Patriots and Lions announced that they will hold separate walkthrough practices Thursday, one day before they play in Detroit. They originally planned to hold a joint practice.

“We were trying to make it work where it was a situation we could get it just like we do our Saturday morning walkthroughs, but the classification of it once it becomes a joint practice is totally different,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said, according to Detroitnews.com. “So that was more the issue than anything else.”

The Patriots have held joint practices with the Jaguars and Texans in recent weeks. Belichick briefly commented on the Lions situation after Tuesday’s practice, but didn’t elaborate much.

“Yeah, I think Jim covered it,” Belichick said.


Brad Almquist can be reached at brad.almquist@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bquist13.