Christian Jones is the Bears’ most intriguing defender

SHARE Christian Jones is the Bears’ most intriguing defender
SHARE Christian Jones is the Bears’ most intriguing defender

If he didn’t line up where he did — next to that man — he’d be the most talked-about player of Bears training camp.

If he didn’t play alongside fellow inside linebacker Shea McClellin, the former first-round draft pick-turned-bust-turned potential starter, Christian Jones would be more than just the literal center of the Bears’ defense.

Even with McClellin nearby, Jones is one of the most important players on the roster — both because of what he can do and how long he can do it in a Bears uniform.

He’s McClellin in reverse, really. Jones almost killed his pro career before it even started, failing a drug test at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine. He went undrafted because of it, signing with the Bears as a rookie free agent months after leading Florida State’s top-ranked defense to a national championship.

A year ago, Jones was simply hoping to make the Bears.

Once he did, he finished third on the team with 98 defensive tackles and 11 special teams stops, starting five times.

Now, 10 pounds heavier, he’s emerged as one of the stars of the Bears’ preseason. He’s of the team’s two inside linebacker starters — yes, next to McClellin — and one reason for optimism on the defensive side of the ball.

“Now I’m in a different situation than last year,” he said. ”Fighting for a chance to start.”

He’s even got the sunny nickname to match: “Cheese,” bestowed upon him by former defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. In perhaps the coach’s best contribution to the Bears, Tucker evoked the pre-snapshot command to capture Jones’ huge, non-stop smile.

Jones could be one of the few pieces of the Bears’ long-term defensive plan to take the field this year. Six projected defensive stalwarts are in the last year of their contract —linemen Jeremiah Ratliff and Jarvis Jenkins, safety Ryan Mundy, and linebackers Sam Acho, Mason Foster and McClellin.

Three more defenders are in their 30s — outside linebacker Jared Allen, cornerback Tim Jennings and safety Antrel Rolle.

As such, none of the above figure to be a member of the Bears’ next great defense.

Because of his age and talent, the 24-year-old Jones could be.

“He’s not where he needs to be,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “He won’t be where he needs to be until two or three years from now. You know, it takes time.”

But he’s getting his chance to grow, something he wasn’t sure would happen at this time last year.

“Things can go bad, but you can write your own future,” said Jones, who trained this offseason with former FSU teammates in Tallahassee, Fla. “Most people probably thought I wouldn’t be able to do the things I did last year, or be able to make the team. I came in. I worked hard. Guys had faith in me, trusted me when I was out there. So I just made the most of my opportunities.”

In 19 years in the NFL, Bears linebackers coach Glenn Pires has seen plenty of undrafted players make an impact. He’s excited about Jones’ 6-3, 240-pound frame, and what he can do with it.

“His length — he plays long,” Pires said. “His size — he can cover a lot of ground. He can be physical at the point of attack, but he’s a long guy that can really have a lot of range throughout the defense.”

Foster, the former Buccaneers linebacker, has given Jones tips on shedding blocks and pointers about pass coverage. Jones has been proficient at both as he continues to learn the finer points of Fangio’s 3-4 defense.

It bodes well for the future.

“It fits a lot of my strengths — able to cover, blitz and play the run. It’s real versatile,” Jones said. “It allows me to a lot of different things. It’s most aggressive. It’s fun.

“Even the veteran guys are excited, re-energized, with the new scheme.”

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