Prior to being named the starting safety in Jacksonville, Josh Jones traversed through a windy road filled with ups and downs, a “dark place” he described to the Jacksonville Jaguars media on Thursday.
Selected in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers, Jones entered the NFL as one of the top safeties to come out of the collegiate level. A player with immense talent and athleticism found himself at the top of a mountain and perhaps didn’t quite realize how quickly he could fall.
Following an up-and-down rookie season, Jones found himself struggling to retain his starting role, eventually falling out of favor with the team that selected him. In an instant, seemingly just as fast as he made it into the NFL, he was out, waived with a non-football illness by the team that selected him two years prior.
For four weeks entering his third season in the NFL, Jones didn’t have a home, no team to continue his football career.
“I’ve been playing this game since I was like eight years old,” Jones began when asked to describe the dark place he was in. “So, for last year, 365 days ago, I think I was out of football for four weeks and I love this game. Anybody that’s around me knows I play this game off pure love. You can see it when I play, so I felt like I didn’t know whether or not I was going to play again.
“A lot of things run through your head: what’s going to happen, what team you’re going to go to. It’s a lot of uncertainty, so I had a lot of that and when something like that is taken away from you, you just learn to appreciate the game so much more.”
It’s not as if Jones didn’t have the ability or the production that’s required to play in the NFL. Four weeks following his stint on the open market, Jones was signed by the Dallas Cowboys, however, eventually that wouldn’t work out either.
In 2019, Jones was only able to play in six games and log two tackles, a far fall from grace to the outside looking in. With the Packers, Jones tallied 126 tackles, seven pass breakups and one interception in two seasons. Peaks and valleys, and there were plenty of teaching moments in between.
Now with the Jaguars, Jones worked his way back to the top, so to speak, earning a starting job while not having much time to be with his teammates. To compensate, Jones took on the challenge of what has occurred in 2020, finding himself “mentally, spiritually, physically.”
“The whole year, the whole offseason, every day I was going through the playbook.” said Jones. “Every day I was on the drawing board, going over plays, going over motions, going over audibles, going over those things, so when we did get to training camp I was on point. I was able to communicate to everybody.”
While the entire world stopped for a moment, Jones kept pushing forward and he did just enough to not only earn a spot as the team’s opening-day starting safety, but pushed another player off of the roster in Ronnie Harrison, now with the Cleveland Browns following trade.
For defensive coordinator Todd Wash, his first impressions of Jones stood out, not necessarily due to his play immediately, but because he seemingly came out of no where.
“He was down at the third spot when we started training camp and as soon as he got in there, he started communicating real loud,” Wash said via a video conference with the media on Thursday. “The rest of the team was like, ‘Who in the heck is this guy?’”
Jones is thankful for his opportunity with the Jaguars. When he was coming out as a safety at N.C. State, the former Wolfpack envisioned himself playing in a scheme that allowed him to get the most out of his God-given athleticism, a system like the Seattle Seahawks have run for years.
“I always spoke it into existence. I always spoke it into the universe and here I am,” he said. “This defense is real fun.”
Now, Jones will be able to play in the system he’s always want to play, but also have a coaching staff that trusts him, it’s different.
“It’s been a long journey, kind of short in the span of four years, but it’s been tough. There’s some ups and downs but I wouldn’t want it any [other] way,” Jones recalled. “I believe in [that] you go through what you go through because you need to know what you know. Now, I’m in a place where my coaches believe in me and it just makes it easier for me.”
Against Indianapolis, Jones tallied 12 tackles, and played on 97% of the team’s defensive snaps, quickly becoming a key player in Wash’s defense.
Talk about speed at safety, Jones flys in here and beats his block on the way to the ball-carrier: pic.twitter.com/iaAeqjHCrB— Demetrius Harvey (@Demetrius82) September 18, 2020
“It was fun, with everything [that’s] been going on this year, to finally be able to get back to football,” Jones said when asked about week one. “So, the energy was there, the juice was there.” The fourth-year safety described the performance as “solid,” but is ready to move on to week two against the Tennessee Titans.
Now, he will continue his journey out of the dark place, hoping to pass some of his newfound wisdom onto younger players in hopes they’ll never have to go through what he did just 365 years ago.
“I went through a lot of stuff and now I’m able to pass it on to the younger guys, the younger rookies now and say, ‘Hey, just learn to appreciate this game’ because 365 days ago I was on the outside looking in and I never want anyone to go through that because if you love the game as much as I love the game, I was in a very, very dark place 365 days ago and to be in this position, the only person I can thank is God.”