Thursday, August 01, 2013

Byron Jones eager to address new challenges

Just the trace of a smile appeared on Byron Jones' face as he contemplated the odyssey he will embark on in his third year as a starter in the UConn secondary.

Jones has been a playmaker at safety since earning a starting position as a redshirt freshman back in 2011. He even got to dabble a bit as a cornerback when starter Blidi Wreh-Wilson missed four games. Now he will get a more extended turn as a corner as the coaches made the decision to have him change positions following the graduation of Wreh-Wilson and Gratz.

"I was a corner in high school my junior year and I moved to safety my senior year so I didn’t get a lot of time there," Jones said. "Before that I was a quarterback so I didn’t play defense until my junior year. I still have a little bit of experience from freshman year playing corner and I’ll try to use that to carry over to the position this year."

Jones has been one of the most productive on the nationally-ranked UConn defense in the last two seasons. As a freshman he made 51 tackles and had two of the Huskies' 18 interceptions. He was third on the 2012 UConn team with 88 tackles so he will bring a physicality to the position. He is also an elite athlete as UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said the only player he coached with a better vertical leap than Jones was former Syracuse receiver Rob Moore who posted three 1,000-yard receiving seasons in his 10 years in the NFL.

With the loss of six senior starters Jones is being asked to take on a larger leadership role as well.

"It is a position that I am happy to take and I have no problem with it so I am excited to get going," Jones said.

Jones believes he will benefit from being on the field with Gratz and Wreh-Wilson in the last two seasons as he saw how the two players, who were taken in the third round in April's NFL draft by Jacksonville and Tennessee respectively, not only played the cornerback position but also were able to shake off any lingering issues when they gave up a big play.

"Those guys were tough, physically tough, mentally tough, those guys didn’t break for anything," Jones said. "Corner, you are out there by yourself, you have your own island and you have to protect that island or else. That is one of the things I like about the position. There is a lot I need to do to be a good corner to put my name in the same sentence as Blidi and Gratz I have a lot to learn. I am excited for the work that is ahead of me."

The first steps will be taken tomorrow as UConn holds its first preseason practice.

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