Bears

Bears: One-time starter Christian Jones willing to forge a new role in changing D

Bears: One-time starter Christian Jones willing to forge a new role in changing D

What’s wrong with this picture? Or maybe, what’s right?

Over the past two years, no Bear made more tackles than Christian Jones’ 196 – a total accomplished in spite of being shunted around in a death-spiraling 4-3 scheme under the Marc Trestman staff in 2014 and then moved inside as part of the John Fox/Vic Fangio 3-4 last season.

An undrafted free agent picked up by the Phil Emery regime out of Florida State, Jones also was third in special-teams tackles (11) in 2014 and contributed four last season along with four pass breakups and four quarterback pressures.

Then this offseason Jones could only watch as the Bears made replacing him (and Shea McClellin) a priority, signing inside linebackers Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan. And suddenly Jones finds himself in a battle for a roster spot. He even saw his number (59) taken to one of the new guys (Trevathan).

It is not often that teams put replacing one of their leading tacklers high on their offseason to-do lists. But there it was.

“You can’t really get surprised,” said Jones, still among the most upbeat players to be found anywhere on the roster. “It’s the NFL, and they brought in two good players, and that’s going to help the team, the defense. I was all in for that.

“So it’s taking my role and doing the best I can with that.”

The trouble is, that “role” is fluid.

[MORE: Bears now losing players to rampant stomach virus]

Coaches came to Jones early in the offseason and said they were moving him back to the outside. Fine. He was comfortable there before. Except that since the start of training camp, Jones has been something of a “Where’s Waldo?” character – inside, outside, try finding him.

If there’s an irony, it lies in the fact that not finding Jones a clear role sets him up as a piece of roster versatility that teams crave.

“We went and signed two inside linebackers in free agency and moved him to outside, and now we’ve kind of moved him back inside, so he’s kind of a hybrid,” said coach John Fox. “And sometimes you have to be that.

“There’s the old adage, ‘The more you can do… ,’ and there are a lot of those hybrid guys in different spots. It gives him an advantage, too, as far as offensive recognition.”

Fox and the Bears staff have placed a premium on attitude as well, and Jones has continued to be a factor on special teams, something not every three-year veteran and former starter embraces.

Jones thinks clearly: “You want to have a job,” he said, laughing. “That’s the main thing.”

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

The bumping around between positions has not set Jones’ development back. Indeed, “I think it’s been somewhat smooth, and playing both, I’m getting a sense of the defense,” Jones said. “That helps a lot. It’s a good thing to know both spots because you never know with injuries, so in the long run it helps me and helps the team.”

When Jones was tasked with calling defensive signals in McClellin’s absence last season, it did not go overly well. Jones was benched by Fangio in Week 15 for inconsistency.

Indications are that something has changed. “I think there is a maturity difference, in my opinion,” Fox said.

Anthony Miller is hyped about Nick Foles' knowledge of Bears' offense

Anthony Miller is hyped about Nick Foles' knowledge of Bears' offense

One of the main reasons the Bears targeted Nick Foles in an offseason that was overflowing with quality quarterbacks to challenge Mitch Trubisky for Chicago's starting job is his familiarity with Matt Nagy's offense. The Bears knew what they were getting when they traded a fourth-round pick to the Jaguars for the former Super Bowl MVP, and in the current COVID-19 reality, that knowledge of who Foles is as a quarterback is more valuable than the team could've ever imagined.

So is Foles' comfort with the playbook. 

Unlike traditional offseasons when players have a chance to acclimate themselves with their new city, teammates, coaching staff, and offensive system, the novel coronavirus has thrust the Bears' quarterback competition into a shotgun four-week run that Foles is oddly equipped to handle. He's already made a positive early impression on wide receiver Anthony Miller.

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“You can definitely tell that Nick has been playing this game for a long time, and he knows this offense very well," Miller said Friday during a Zoom call with reporters. "He’s very detailed in practice, you can catch him in the back of an offensive play going through his progressions and he’s not even in, so that’s just the type of player he is, and I can’t wait to see him live action to see what he really can do.”

It feels like the Trubisky vs. Foles showdown has been underway since March, but the reality is it's just getting started. Padded practices begin next week and will give Chicago's coaches and players their first real opportunity to evaluate which quarterback gives the team the best chance to win.

According to Miller, the starting gig is up for grabs.

“This is going to be an interesting competition to see and the best man is going to get the job.”

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Super Bowl or bust? Why Bears' championship formula is backward in 2020

Super Bowl or bust? Why Bears' championship formula is backward in 2020

First, the good news: The Bears can win Super Bowl LV.

Why not? It’s August.

If Matt Nagy can find the right quarterback and Ryan Pace’s play to overhaul the tight end room pays off, this offense could be a ton of fun to watch. And if the addition of Robert Quinn gives the Bears the sort of fearsome pass rush we expect it will, this defense should be among the best in the NFL – and more than good enough to win a Super Bowl.

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There’s absolutely no part of me that’s going to tell you the Bears cannot win a Super Bowl before we’ve seen them practice, let alone play a game, in 2020.

“We want to win a Super Bowl,” wide receiver Allen Robinson said. “Every day we come into the facility, all our meetings and things like that, I think that our coaches are doing a really good job for everybody to keep that in mind and that's the main thing.”

Okay, but you’re probably waiting for the bad news. I just didn’t want to start with it. Because while it's not impossible for the Bears to make a Super Bowl run, there's a big reason why it feels unlikely. 

The Bears’ formula for winning in 2020, seemingly, is pairing a good enough offense with an elite defense. It’s what got them to the playoffs in 2018 as NFC North champions. It’s what could get them back to the playoffs again this season.

But an “eh, it’s fine” offense coupled with an awesome defense is not a formula that wins you a Super Bowl in 2021. As the last 10 Super Bowls tell us, it pays to have a great offense – and doesn’t matter if you have a great defense.

The last 20 Super Bowl participants, on average, had the sixth-best offense in a given year as ranked by Football Outsiders’ DVOA. The average ranking of their defenses was about 12th.

It’s been even more pronounced over the last four years. On average, a Super Bowl team in that span ranked fourth in offense and 16th in defense.

Only two teams in the last decade reached a Super Bowl with an offense outside the top 10 in DVOA (Denver in 2015, Baltimore in 2012 – notably, both teams still won). Eleven of the last 20 teams to make a Super Bowl had a defense outside the DVOA top 10, including last year’s Kansas City Chiefs.

MORE: Why you shouldn't worry about Allen Robinson getting a contract extension

So the Bears, as currently constructed, do not appear built to win a Super Bowl. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done – we’re not all that far removed from the 2015 Broncos hoisting the Lombardi Trophy with the No. 25 offense and No. 1 defense – but recent history suggests it’s unlikely.

That is, unless Nagy can find the success his former peers (Doug Pederson, Andy Reid) had with his offensive scheme. Make no mistake: Offense leads Super Bowl runs, with defense a supporting character. Not the other way around. And it feels like the Bears have it the other way around. 

 

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