Back in 2015, seemingly every sentence that came out of Reshad Jones’ mouth included these three elements: A noun, a verb, and “Pro Bowl.”
Making the NFL all-star game consumed his most every thought that season. Jones was adamant that he belong on any list of best NFL safeties, and a Pro Bowl appearance would help prove that point.
Mission accomplished. He went to the Pro Bowl, albeit as an alternate, after an excellent 2015.
The next spring, he had a different goal, but the same singularity of focus. Jones believed that he had proven to be an elite safety, and expected to be paid like one. He checked that box in March; the Dolphins gave Jones a new five-year, $60 million contract in March, even though he missed most of the 2016 season with a major shoulder injury.
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But after being driven by his personal standards the past two years, Jones has a different set of motivations in 2017.
“Numbers don't lie,” Jones said Tuesday, as the Dolphins began their second week of organized team activities. “My numbers are top of the line of all of them. ... [But] I don't really worry about that now. The contract's behind me, everything is cool. I'll be here for a while. My main focus is to go out and do everything I can to help the team win football games.”
The Dolphins’ playoff drought might have ended last fall, but for Jones, it continues.
Now in his eighth NFL season, he still hasn’t appeared in the postseason. A significant rotator cuff injury last October ended Jones’ season. When his teammates faced the Steelers in the playoffs, Jones was a spectator.
And it stung.
“It was kind of brutal for me,” Jones said. “I was happy for my guys that we made the playoffs finally and made that push. But it hurt for me.”
So Jones is all-in on winning now. Fully cleared by team doctors earlier this month, he’s participating in the very voluntary practices that he skipped over his contract situation a year ago.
Jones called the rehab the toughest situation of his career.
“It was a long process,” he added. “I'm back fully healthy right now."
The Dolphins are ecstatic about that. Their run defense was terrible last year, allowing the most yards per carry (4.8) in the league. Jones’ injury was a big reason why; he plays with abandon at the line of scrimmage, and Miami couldn’t replace that dynamic when he went down.
The Dolphins should be a deeper defense this season after attacking that side of the ball in free agency and the draft. Nate Allen will presumably start alongside Jones at safety, at least until T.J. McDonald’s eight-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy ends.
“Reshad, his play speaks for itself,” said Allen, who signed with the Dolphins early in free agency. “He’s who he is for a reason, and he’s the guy. He makes a lot of plays. He’s just a great playmaker. I could see it early, and I’ve watched him through the years. As I’ve been in other places, I’ve always watched him on tape. He stands out.”
Allen added: “He’s a prolific playmaker, and he practices hard and he helps out the young guys in the classroom. We just kind of feed off each other.”
Allen has played free safety and strong safety, but his No. 1 assignment in Miami will probably be as the Dolphins’ last line of defense. Jones will play near the line of scrimmage; Allen will handle center field.
“It's early to put any rankings on anything like that, but I think we do have a good group,” Jones said of Miami’s secondary. “We've got a lot of good pieces, and Nate Allen we added and T.J. [Xavien Howard] is playing good and Tony Lippett is playing probably the best ball he's been playing. I think we can be special.”