By Jack Ryan
When the Eagles took cornerback Sidney Jones in the second round of the 2017 draft, lots of people were surprised because Jones had ruptured his Achilles tendon in his pro day the month before.
Projected by some to be a top-15 pick in the 2017 NFL draft, the University of Washington standout appeared in just one game as a rookie.
Last season, he had hamstring issues in early October and never got right, missing seven games in all.
This summer, though, has delivered a different Jones. The swagger levels are up and so is the production. He has intercepted Carson Wentz multiple times during training camp while running with the first team, working both at outside cornerback and from the slot. It’s the best he has looked since coming into the league, and he hasn’t missed a practice.
“I feel better mentally, spiritually and healthwise,” Jones said. “I feel really good about everything.”
A key part of the turnaround was his work with trainer Steven Whitehead, who has served as Alshon Jeffery’s trainer for several years and, along with his partner Deon Hodges, boasts an Eagles client list that now includes Fletcher Cox, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Josh Perkins, Greg Ward and Bruce Ellington.
Jones trained with Whitehead in Dallas for a month following organized team activities, during which they attacked the injury issues both physiologically and psychologically. First, Whitehead took the dramatic step of changing how Jones runs. Jones had a tendency to over-stride, so Whitehead got him to shorten his stride and correct his posture to take pressure off his hamstrings and allow him to run with more power.
“When I tell a guy to run the way I want him to run, you should see the look on their face,” Whitehead told ESPN.
“It is kind of weird knowing you haven’t been running right your whole life and you start to run with form,” Jones added. “And then you get in this weird place where you know what it feels like, you know the difference between your old self and what it’s supposed to feel like. The challenge is trying to find that consistency of the new because you could easily fall back into the old.”
To get past the mental blocks, Jones had to develop a better understanding of which types of pain and soreness you can push through, and which types you can’t. Jones explained that following significant injury, “anything else in your body hurting might trigger that same type of mental confusion,” making it essential that you’re well-educated on what the real warning signs are.
Whitehead became very knowledgeable in this realm through experience. A former football player himself, he had several surgeries over his career: a knee surgery in high school; two more knee surgeries in college to go with hip labrum repair; and a torn shoulder labrum, broken back and two more knee surgeries in the Arena League. Once Jones heard that, he knew Whitehead had an understanding of where he was coming from.