Written by Omar Kelly of the Sun-Sentinel
Last year the volume on Reshad Jones' impact got turned down.
The Miami Dolphins' starting strong safety went from being one of the most impactful players on the defense in 2012 to becoming just a guy in 2013. The Dolphins linebacker shift changed his roles, making Jones more responsible for tight end coverage, and tailbacks coming out the backfield, and at times Jones struggled in the new defense.
Not helping matters was the fact this former Georgia standout had just signed a lucrative four-year, $29.3 million contract extension before the season, which helped raise expectations for him to follow up on his breakout year. Jones doesn't shy away from admitting his play didn't match the expectations, but he also feels like people are making too much of the decline.
"Minus three interceptions it was the same season," Jones said of his 2013 showing, which featured 107 tackles, one and a half sacks, and one interceptions.
In 2012 Jones, who is entering his fourth season as a starter for the Dolphins, contributed 94 tackles, one sack, four interceptions and forced two fumbles. His play in 2012 earned him the Profootballfocus.com rating as the NFL's third best safety that season. The only safeties he didn't outperform was Eric Weddle and Jarius Byrd, which explained the lucrative contract extension former General Manager Jeff Ireland gave him.
But last year Jones was ranked the 68th best safety in the NFL by Profootballfocus.com, which means even a few backups were better in 2013.
"Everybody just knows Reshad Jones is a big play guy, the guy who gets the explosive plays and gets things going," Jones told me during my WQAM show with Channing Crowder. "When preparation meets opportunity [is his mantra]. I just have to continue to work my [butt] off during practice to be an extra step ahead of those guys, and be able to make those explosive plays that help the Dolphins win football games."
Dolphins coach Joe Philbin admits he's noticed Jones working harder during the offseason program, and as a result he's witnessed the safety's play speed improve.
“It’s not that last year he was here and didn’t run to the ball ever," Philbin said. "It’s just it’s very, very noticeable on tape that he’s practicing harder on a more consistent basis."
Even Jones admits he's pushing himself harder with the hopes it helps him rebound in 2014.
"Practice is the key. Like [former Dolphins defensive coordinator] Mike Nolan once told me, 'two interceptions in practice equals one in the game.' I'm working on being more prepared and taking practice a little bit more serious," Jones said. "That's why coach sees the difference. I'm just going to practice playing hard and hopefully it carries over to the ball game."
Philbin said Jones has also meshed well with Louis Delmas, the Dolphins' new starting free safety, who will replace Chris Clemons. But even Jones admits they aren't a finished product yet.
The key to getting this batch of defensive backs, which includes a new starting cornerback Cortland Finnegan as well as Delmas, to form camaraderie is communication, Jones said.
"Getting to know each other," Jones said. "They know football. They are smart guys. The key is building that brotherhood. Those are some veteran guys who have played football in this league and they can get it done. Once we build that bond, and start talking the same language we'll be better off."