The Bears don’t have much to play for in Week 18, besides trying to help Justin Fields set the new single-season quarterback rushing record. The team always wants to win, but a win won’t change their fortunes this year. They’ll still finish with one of the worst records in the league and at the bottom of the NFC North. So a good amount of focus will be spent on growth and development of their young players.
We’ve seen it already, as the Bears have deployed rotations on the offensive line between Larry Borom and Dieter Eiselen. They’ve subbed in Elijah Hicks at safety and given Trestan Ebner extra carries at running back, too. But one man who hasn’t gotten much additional playing time on offense is Velus Jones Jr.
The Bears used a third-round draft pick on Jones Jr. with the hopes that he could provide a spark on special teams, and could bring explosive playmaking ability on offense. The team scouting report said he was fast, good with the ball in space and could challenge defenses both horizontally and vertically. We didn’t get to see much of that this season, as ball security issues led to a mid-season benching on teams, and he only played more than 25% of the team’s offensive snaps in two games.
“What really held me back in the beginning was my hamstring injury,” Jones Jr. said. “It was carrying on into the season and stuff. I feel like that was what held me back. Do I know the playbook better now? For sure I do. But I feel like it was more of my hamstring that held me back more than anything.”
Jones Jr. only missed a significant chunk of training camp due to the injury. It kept him out of two preseason games, and delayed his regular season debut to Week 4. He didn’t play on offense until Week 5, when he played three snaps. One of those snaps was a touchdown, so it appeared like the arrow was pointing up, but from there things started to derail. In Week 6 he muffed his second punt of the year, which set up the Commanders to win a 12-7 game. Jones Jr. was made a healthy scratch in Weeks 9 and 10.
Through it all, Jones Jr. kept his head held high. Hestayed upbeat in the locker room and remained confident that things would turn around for him. Eventually they did. Jones Jr. was let out of the dog house and was given the opportunity to return kicks again. He started making positively impactful plays in that phase of the game, and since Week 11 he’s returned 12 kickoffs for 398 yards, good for a 33.2 yard average. Jones Jr. is starting to play more on offense again, and finally caught a deep ball from Fields in Week 16.
“I feel like I’ve been upward with my production, practice habits and stuff like that,” Jones Jr. said. “Everything is trending in the right direction. Just continue to be me. Just stay mentally focused and locked in. And everything else will take care of itself. Just keep putting in extra work.”
That’s the key for Jones to earn more snaps in the final game of the season, and he should probably get a longer look against the Vikings so the Bears can better evaluate him heading into the offseason. If he does get the opportunity to play more, Jones Jr. just wants to remind the Bears of what drew them to him in the first place.
“I would like to be the best version of myself, no matter how many snaps, how many kickoff returns I get,” Jones Jr. said. “Be the person that they drafted.”