OXNARD, Calif. – This time last year, Byron Jones was like an eager new office hire for a company needing help in a bunch of departments.
He played cornerback. He played safety. He covered tight ends in the dime package.
"I like it. I feel like they're trying to challenge me," last year's first-round pick said on these same Oxnard practice fields a year ago. "They're trying to say, 'Hey Byron, go out there, let's see what you've got. Let's see what you've got at dime, let's see what you've got at safety and at corner. I think it's a great challenge every day."
Jones is still challenging himself this summer, but his duties have narrowed. He enters training camp as the projected starting free safety, not a moonlighting defensive back with versatility and no established role.
"We thought it was in his best interest and our team's best interest to have him focus in on playing safety this year," Garrett said. "So I think there is some growth that comes from that, to just lock in on this position and understand what we're asking him to do and the nuances of the technique that we're asking him to use as he plays safety for us."
The Cowboys tested Jones' resourcefulness throughout the season. He started 11 games as a rookie – seven at safety and four at cornerback. He covered some of the league's elite tight ends, including Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski. He finished the season with 76 tackles (2 for loss) and 12 pass breakups.
He passed the Cowboys' test. But instead of placing more responsibilities on his desk – asking him to be effective in several roles – the coaching staff is letting him focus on becoming great at one: safety. His range, recognition skills and leaping ability make him a good fit in centerfield.
"The reason we like him at safety is because he adds speed and range in the back end," secondary coach Joe Baker said. "So it's not like he lacks something to play corner; it's more like with his tools he adds something to us at safety."
Safety wasn't a foreign concept for Jones in college, either. He started 20 games there his first two years at UConn before switching to cornerback as a junior and senior.
Jones' cornerback experience still has been beneficial to him as he worked on his man coverage in the offseason.
"I guess just kind of understanding what the corners are doing on a defensive play basis," he said. "You understand the defensive scheme in its entirety as opposed to just one position."
And, of course, the Cowboys always could plug him back in at corner again in the event of injuries on the roster.
"You never know how the season unfolds," Baker said. "That's the great thing about Byron is he can do so many things for us. We're excited to see him at safety; that's why we have in there, but he can do so many different things."