By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- One of the most disappointing - and pivotal - moments of the Patriots' 2015 season was Chris Harper's muffed punt against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field, a crucial mistake that allowed the Broncos to come back and win the game after being down 14 points at the time. The Patriots clearly aim to have better ball security and consistency in that area, and rookie Cyrus Jones could be in line for the punt returner spot.
Despite Julian Edelman's prowess as a punt returner, it appears the Patriots drafted Jones with the expectation that he would eventually fill that role. But the rookie out of Alabama reportedly had some trouble fielding punts at practice on Monday, which spurred questions from reporters after practice ended.
Jones already knows as well as anyone on the Patriots how much Bill Belichick values ball security on special teams, and how your ability to return balls means nothing if you can't catch the thing in the first place.
"I'm just trying to eliminate the drops and muffs altogether, and totally just get rid of that out of my game," said Jones. "I think that's the biggest part of punt returning is possessing the ball. ... Once you do that you can use your athletic ability, but before you do that you can't do anything."
Jones is well aware how much the competition has elevated for him at the NFL level, even on punt returns. NFL punters are far more accurate than college and get much more hang time on the ball, which Jones will have to adjust to as he gets ready for his rookie season. But he already sounds like a Patriot with the way he is dedicated to improving his play, no matter how fine the details get.
"[I will be] continuing to focus on how I track the ball and things like that, but that's going to come," he said. "Like I said, I'm going to come out here each day with the mindset of improving and it only can get better."
Jones added that the punting game, and football in general, is often "more mental than physical" and even if he continues to drop punts in practice, he will need to have a "short memory" (as he called it) and go back to focusing on the next catch. Because, like he said and like Harper showed last season, punt returns obviously can't happen without the ball in your hands.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. His opinions do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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