With his rookie season on the Dallas Cowboys roster behind him, Byron Jones has passed his first true test. A star player from UConn, Byron was a 1st round draft pick last year, and he set a world record in his broad jump at the 2015 NFL Combine. We got a chance to speak with Byron about tech adoption in the NFL, learnings, and his reflections on what he’s looking forward to this season.
Melissa Sulewski: You’re just in the beginning of your second season. Can you give us your impressions of what it’s been like in your first year as an NFL rookie?
Byron Jones: My first year was hard. I’m not used to playing against people who are all the best at their position. So talent-wise, just people’s skill-sets was something I wasn’t used to. Every time I’m up against somebody new, they’re the best at that position, and that took a while for me to adjust.
That said, the scheduling’s not too bad. I’m used to the travel because we did that in college. I guess for me, and where I got drafted, it’s just all the expectations too. You try not to let it get to you… but I do my best not to pay attention. I know what has gotten me here and what will get me further. And that’s just putting your head down and working.
MS: Looking back at last season, what are you most proud of?
BJ: Just my ability to be versatile. I’ve played a lot of positions. Usually you play one position, but I played like three or four last year. For me, a guy who played corner and safety in college, I got drafted with the assumption that I could play both. So that’s what they intended to use me for for my first year and that’s what they did. Then I played some other specialized positions called nickel and dime. So all different positions but somewhat similar responsibilities. I’m most proud of my versatility and ability to understand the playbook in all positions.
MS: How is training different in the professional arena from what you saw in college?
BJ: It’s actually more — well, here’s the thing in the NFL: it’s up to you. You don’t have to train until — [laughs] you don’t get done with the season until mid-January and you don’t have to train until August, hypothetically. So it’s really up to you, and you really have to come up with your own lifting and eating schedule. In the NFL you learn a lot because you’re on your own. You can go to training facilities to help you out, which is what I did. It’s really just trial and error to see how your body reacts to certain things and how you like certain workouts. At college, it’s all planned out for you. You have to train at certain times. But in the NFL, it’s really all on your own.
MS: It sounds like you really have to take control in the off-season.
BJ: Exactly. And then, most people like to switch up the scenery. I train for Florida for one month, then I go to DC for the next month. Just to experience a new vibe, a new facility, a new workout program.
MS: So we know you set a world record in your broad jump and your vertical was equally impressive. How do you keep your performance so explosive with jumps?
BJ: Honestly it was a combination of two things: I was always able to jump higher than most people. But I’m also a hard worker. I don’t go out often, I don’t drink, I’m not up late, so I’ve always been in a habit of taking care of my body. So for me, it’s just continuing all the things that I’ve always done to get to this point. Continue to do explosive workouts and heavy weights on certain days. You can’t lift the same every single day; you gotta train for certain moments. Like when you’re trying to build heavy muscle you want to use certain weights. But when you’re trying to be more explosive, you gotta use lighter weights and move faster. So it’s all in training right to maintain that athleticism.
MS: There’s a lot of products being created for the game of football lately. We’re talking GPS-based performance trackers, VR headsets, and even smart glasses. What’s the sentiment from players and coaches towards new tech in the league?
BJ: We’ve got trackers in the back of our shoulder pads, and they keep track of how much we run and how fast we run, all that good stuff. We don’t get to see the data, the strength and conditioning stuff. [Trainers] just tell us like, “You ran a lot this week so we’re going to cut down next week.” Obviously that’s in relation to the rest of the team. I mean, linemen aren’t going to be running as much as DBs. For the most part, they want to make sure they’re not overworking us.
MS: How do coaches feel about that? [Laughs]
BJ: You have no clue. [Laughs] No, the coaches are cool. Nowadays, coaches are starting to understand that for people to perform their best they have to be in the best shape. They can’t be all beat up and torn down and then try to play a game that’s going to last three and a half hours. Their focus is really on using the data to take care of players’ bodies for a very physical game.
MS: Is there any one area of the game that you think could most benefit from the tech world getting involved that maybe hasn’t been done yet?
BJ: I would guess concussions. That’s the biggest issue involving football. Just helmets or data that can to some degree limit or prevent concussion injuries in future. Brains are tricky because you can’t really examine the impact while the person is still alive, so preventing concussions would be huge.
MS: Do you use any apps to gauge anything fitness related on a personal level? We are seeing bracelets and other personal trackers getting popular, too.
BJ: Nah. [Laughs] I don’t use any apps to track my working out. I used to have a tracking bracelet but it was weird, because on days I barely moved it would say I had 10,000 steps. Although, I had a really cheap one so I guess that doesn’t count because the technology is probably a lot better now. I was like, “Nah, this ain’t right, man.” [Laughs]
MS: What are your favorite apps?
BJ: I use Twitter a lot. Twitter is for me hilarious. I guess just the people I follow, everyday I’m laughing at something. Instagram is always great. I don’t use Snapchat much, so I guess Twitter and Instagram are it for me.
MS: Last but not least, what are you hoping to get out of this season — what would make you happy?
BJ: My goals? I should probably write this stuff down. [Laughs] Honestly, I just want to be that teammate that can turn the game around, that can get interceptions, that can create turnovers. Because last year, that’s what our defense lacked. It was turnovers. We had a good defense, but we just didn’t take the ball away enough, and that’s just something that’s been a big focus for us this year. So I’m just hoping I can get some turnovers for this team.