Bears rookie Jones an oasis of optimism
In an increasingly depressing Bears season, undrafted rookie linebacker Christian Jones has been an oasis of optimism.
There isn't a player on the roster who has come farther faster than the rangy, athletic Jones, who has impressed on and off the field. His perpetual smile and upbeat attitude quickly earned him the nickname "Cheese," because, according to teammates and coaches, Jones always looks as if he's just been instructed to smile for the camera.
Undrafted because of a failed drug test at the NFL Scouting Combine, the three-year starter at Florida State has proven that even good people and good football players make stupid mistakes.
Despite starting just four games, two in the middle and one on each side, Jones has been credited by the Bears with 91 tackles, third on the team. He has been the rare success story in a failed season. The Bears' 5-10 record brings the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Jones no satisfaction, but he has accomplished more than most drafted players do in their rookie seasons.
"Team-wise, obviously the goal is to make the playoffs every year, and we're not in it," Jones said, "but I think individually I made some strides. I came here as an undrafted guy (and figured) I'd play a little bit, so I'm happy with that."
Bears coaches are more than happy with the return they've gotten on their minimal investment in Jones. He started out on special teams and became a core player there almost immediately. He's third on the Bears with 11 special-teams tackles.
A rash of injuries got him playing time in the base defense early in the season, and when additional injuries further thinned the ranks, Jones was an obvious choice for a promotion.
"He's ascending," said Bears coach Marc Trestman. "He's learning the game on the run, and the more he gets to see things the better he's getting. He's playing faster. We're excited about him."
Jones led the Bears with 18 tackles last week against the Lions and tied with Jon Bostic for team honors with 15 tackles a week earlier against the Saints. In his second start, Week 8 against the Patriots, Jones led the Bears with 16 tackles.
Nice numbers, but Jones knows he's capable of more.
"People talk about those double-digit-tackle games I had, but I feel like I left some plays out there," he said. "I could have done better, and my coaches know that, too.
"It's exciting to know that I'm progressing but that there's so much room for me to grow and get better. I'm still learning, trying to become a student of the game. That comes with years, but I know I'll get there because I'm on the right path. I just have to keep working, stay level-headed and humble and keep going."
Jones' work ethic and enthusiasm got him noticed almost immediately in training camp. As he's learned the Bears' scheme and his assignments, his production has skyrocketed.
"He's a lot more confident in what we need him to do from an assignment standpoint," said Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. "And that just comes with reps. He's a football guy. He loves to play the game. It means a lot to him.
"But in order to learn how to play the position, you have to play. He's gotten reps in practice, and now he's gotten a lot of reps in games. He knows where he needs to be, so he can play fast and you're starting to see the production."
In retrospect, the 31 other NFL teams who passed Jones up in the draft would probably like a do-over.
"It's their loss," Jones said, as usual, smiling. "I always knew I could play. I came here, and these guys believed in me, not only as a football player, but as a person. Once I was here, I felt like I owed them, so I came in here trying to work to be the best player I can be."
Jones is off to a much better start than anyone anticipated, and he's optimistic going forward.
"I feel like the sky's the limit," he said.
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