Colin Jones is one of the fastest players on the Panthers team, but his speed still sneaks up on people.
Ron Rivera said so, and Jones said he’s heard it ever since college. His response is always the same.
“Just turn on the tape,” he said.
Jones, a fifth-year defensive back out of Texas Christian, has spent his career racing down the field on special teams and through the playbook trying to learn Carolina’s defense.
A safety and a nickel cornerback for the Panthers, Jones offers versatility in the defensive backfield and speed on punts and kickoffs.
“I think we’re very happy with all the roles he can play for us. He’s kind of a jack of all trades,” Rivera said Sunday at Wofford College. “One thing is he’s a special teams ace, so we have to make sure we find opportunities to use him on the football field and make sure he’s still involved on special teams.”
Jones played at TCU in coach Gary Patterson’s 4-2-5 defense that featured five defensive backs. He played a hybrid strong safety position that, though common in college, isn’t as prevalent in the NFL.
He had 80 tackles in his senior year but didn’t understand how to play defensive back in the NFL. His work on special teams, as well as his 4.34 40-yard dash, helped him be selected in the sixth round of the 2011 draft by the San Francisco 49ers.
“If you’re not one of those elite guys at your position you’re going to have to play special teams,” Jones said. “I think that’s a big problem some people don’t understand coming out of college: what’s asked of them once they get here. It was an easier transition knowing that’s going to be my focus and learn defense.
“If you’re good at special teams, it buys you time because you’re still contributing.”
He didn’t get much defensive work in San Francisco and was traded to Carolina before the 2012 season for a 2014 seventh-round pick. That selection eventually became defensive end Kaleb Ramsey, who did not play last season because of injury.
Almost immediately Jones’ speed stood out on special teams, and he continued to hear from teammates and opponents about his “deceptive speed.”
Why does he believe people find his speed to be “deceptive?”
“Cause I’m white,” Jones said with a laugh.
A white player in the defensive backfield has become a rarity in the NFL, with Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle in San Diego being the most prominent face among them.
“It’s funny. We have great camaraderie in the defensive back room,” Jones said. “We have fun with it. Sometimes you don’t have to be politically correct about everything when you’re with a group of friends. It’s a lot of fun.”
Jones flashed his speed on a reverse to fellow speedster Damiere Byrd during practice on Thursday, leading Byrd – who ran a 4.28 40 – to the sideline rather than getting upfield.
But where Jones still needs work is in his man-to-man coverage, especially in the slot. Twice Sunday, Jerricho Cotchery caught passes against him after being lined up in the slot.
“It really starts at the line of scrimmage, moving his feet and getting his hands on him,” said Steve Wilks, assistant head coach and defensive backs coach.
“He’s a physical guy. And then once he gets in phase with the receiver he can run with anybody in the league. We’ve got to continue to work on those first 5 yards and get in phase at the line of scrimmage.”
Jones’ versatility will help secure a final roster spot next month. He’s backing up Bené Benwikere at nickel and sits as the No. 3 safety in camp along with his special teams work.
“The more you can do, it’s just going to help the team in different ways,” Jones said
“It’s a lot of fun. I love special teams and always will. It’s what got me in this league and that’s why I’ll stick around. The more you can do to help the football team is what I’m looking to do.”