FOXBOROUGH — Cyrus Jones had put his disappointing rookie season in the rearview and was well on his way to reestablishing himself in the cornerback rotation and as a return specialist last summer.
Then disaster struck.
On a seemingly innocent play in the final preseason game against the Giants, Jones fell awkwardly while covering his man and suffered a torn ACL that cost him his comeback season before it ever really started.
Now the 2016 second-round pick, whose rookie season was stained by five fumbles in the return game, is battling back again, and he’s in a race against time and space. There’s not a lot of camp time left and there’s precious little space on the roster.
Jones, who just started practicing last week, has only a few weeks and three exhibition games left to climb a depth chart that features established veterans in Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jason McCourty, and Jonathan Jones as well as a handful of young guns in Ryan Lewis, Jomal Wiltz, Duke Dawson, Keion Crossen, J.C. Jackson, and A.J. Moore.
“It was very frustrating,’’ Jones said of the injury. “Very quickly I tried to just move on and just rely on my faith and understand everything happens for a reason and just try to take positives from it.’’
Though he acknowledges the injury is still fresh in his mind (“I just got out here four days ago”), he won’t dwell on it, either: He’s focused on the here and now.
“I’m not worrying about the negative stuff right now, frustration or whatever,’’ he said. “That’s in the past.’’
Unfortunately for the Patriots, other players also suffered torn ACLs last preseason and Jones said he built “some camaraderie” with Derek Rivers and Julian Edelman as the three pushed and supported each other throughout the rehab process.
Though he wasn’t able to sharpen his skills on the field, Jones still feels he was able to better himself as a football player.
“Not being able to play the game physically, you only have one choice, and that’s to watch it from the outside in and try to become a better student of the game,’’ he said. “I just tried to do my best to take advantage of that.’’
Jones believes the rehab time, which he labled “an everyday grind mentally and physically,’’ helped him become a more well-rounded person in general.
“I just tried to use this time wisely to work on myself as a person outside of football and just become a student of the game and get those reps in the film room,’’ he said. “Just kind of get an edge in that respect — that’s all you can do.’’
When asked specifically what he worked on as a person, Jones said, “I don’t really want to get into that,’’ before adding, “It gave me a chance to give my attention to things other than football.’’
While he was limited to mainly handling punts in his first few days back on the practice field, he was allowed to turn it up a notch Monday and was a full participant.
Jones worked on positional drills, one-on-ones, and full-team work.
“Playing football is better than rehabbing,’’ he said. “So it’s good to get back out there.’’
Slippery when wet
Eric Decker wasn’t catching on early in Monday’s practice. The veteran receiver who is getting a crash course in the New England offense was letting footballs — and opportunities — slip through his fingers.
And he wasn’t the only one.
Patriots pass catchers dropped 10 passes during the morning practice conducted in fairly thick fog that resulted in some slippery footing and some soggy footballs.
Decker had it the worst, dropping three balls, including a pair during a side session with Tom Brady. He also appeared to run the wrong route during the tutorial.
He rallied late, however, building some chemistry after a chat with his quarterback. He caught the last three balls thrown his way, including a nice deep pass despite solid coverage from Jonathan Jones.
“It’s part of the game. We’re all human,’’ said Decker, who wanted no part of using wet footballs as an excuse for the drops. “We’re all going to make mistakes — but don’t let it become a habit. Don’t let it happen over and over again.
“This game is about mental toughness. You’ve got to bounce back. They’re going to be asking you to respond. It’s not really what you do in that moment, it’s how you react to it.
“I’ve played a lot of football. I’ve had a few drops in my day. I have many catches as well. I know how to bounce back and get to it.’’
Former Patriots running back and staffer Sammy Morris brought the Dean College football team for a visit. Morris, who got a bunch of hugs from Patriot players on their way to the field, is the school’s running backs coach . . . Chris Hogan simply said “no” when asked if there were any extra motivation for playing the Eagles Thursday night . . . Decker has worn No. 87 throughout his career but took No. 81 here because a certain big tight end already has his favorite. Why 81? “Of the options I had, I thought it made me look the most slimming,’’ he joked.