Now a Starter, Jones Handling What Coaches, Opponents Throw His Way

IRVING, Texas – The biggest talk all week before Sunday's game was the change in the starting lineup the Cowboys – and their entire fan base – were expecting on offense.

While Dez Bryant indeed returned, there was another lineup change on the other side of the ball – one that could be a permanent move.

First-round pick Byron Jones got the start at free safety in place of J.J. Wilcox. And it wasn't because the Cowboys went to a different defensive package to start the game. It wasn't a way to match up Jones on another Seattle receiver.

This was the base defense where Jones started at free safety, alongside strong safety Barry Church.

On Monday, Garrett was simply asked why the Cowboys decided to make the switch. His answer was rather simple as well.

[embeddedad0]"He's just playing well," Garrett said of Jones. "Everything we've given him over the course of the early part of the season, he's seemed to handle the work well. Whether it's covering a guy as a matchup for us, playing man-to-man defense, or going in at safety, playing some dime, playing some nickel, he just does a lot of good things. He's around the football. He makes plays on the ball. He breaks up passes. He makes tackles. He's a good football player."

While Jones was listed as a cornerback when drafted back in April, his flexibility to play safety as well was one of the reasons the Cowboys selected him. So Garrett isn't exactly ready to call him a full-time safety on a permanent basis.

"We feel like he's capable of really doing both, so he's played some safety for us," Garrett said. "He played a lot of nickel (against Seattle). He's played dime. So that's more of a corner-type cover position. So he's really demonstrated that he could do both, so we want to give him chances to do it."

This year, Jones has played mostly in the nickel and dime packages, matched up against the tight ends. Before Sunday's game against Seattle and perennial Pro Bowler Jimmy Graham, the Cowboys hadn't allowed a tight end to catch more than four passes in a game this year. And that includes New England's Rob Gronkowski, who had four catches for 67 yards.

Graham had seven catches for 75 yards, but wasn't always lined up against Jones. The Seahawks often spread Graham out as a wide receiver.

Still, the Cowboys have been nothing but impressed with Jones' progress, especially with his eagerness to take on whatever has been asked.

"One of the things that has been so impressive about him right from the start, and it goes all the way back to the first OTA day, you put him into situations and he's not shy," Garrett said. "He's not afraid to get in there and mix it up with guys, veteran players who are much more experienced than he is. He just goes down there and tries to guard him. It's not always perfect, but he certainly is willing. I think when you have all the positive tangible stuff mixed with the intangible stuff and the desire to go do it, you're going to get better fast."

So fast that he's already in the starting lineup at a position where he didn't practice much in training camp.

Nick Eatman is the author of the recently published *If These Walls Could Talk: Dallas Cowboys, a collection of stories from the Cowboys' locker room, sideline and press box, with a foreword written by Darren Woodson.*

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