Benching Velus Jones is wrong move for Bears’ future

Halfway through his rookie season, Velus Jones played his way off the Bears’ active roster Sunday against the Dolphins. That’s alarming news for the franchise and for the 25-year-old rookie, though head coach Matt Eberflus would argue the former.

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Bears receiver Velus Jones was a healthy scratch Sunday.

Bears receiver Velus Jones was a healthy scratch Sunday.

Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Velus Jones played his way off the Bears’ active roster for Sunday’s game against the Dolphins. That’s alarming news for the franchise and for the 25-year-old rookie, though coach Matt Eberflus would argue the former.

“We’re doing what’s best for us,” he said Wednesday.

In the short term, perhaps. Jones fumbled fourth-quarter punts in back-to-back games last month and has been used all-too-sparingly on offense. The arrival of Chase Claypool via trade and pending return of Byron Pringle from injured reserve has pushed Jones further down the depth chart.

Benching their third-round pick against the Dolphins, though, was antithetical to what should be the Bears’ only goal this season: to find players who will be on their next good team.

Eberflus said those opportunities are afforded during practice — and not games.

“Certainly, we look at that and we understand that,” Eberflus said. “But we do that more in practice. For the game, we’re going to put the best guys up for the game to win that game.”

Jones acknowledged there were two ways he could take being a healthy scratch.

“You can let it take you down a dark place and stuff like that mentally, or you can use it as motivation to get you better,” he said. “I’ve been using it for motivation. . . . Being the competitor that I am, it just showed me that I gotta improve, I gotta do more, put in more work to get where I want to be.”

Eberflus cited special-teams needs when explaining why he sat Jones. He lost his punt-return job after fumbling against the Giants and Commanders and had precious few chances on kick returns. He has returned six kickoffs to go with his 16 touchbacks.

The night the Bears used their third-round draft pick on Jones, general manager Ryan Poles detailed the growth of Tyreek Hill when the two were in Kansas City. Hill led the NFL in punt-return yards, punt-return touchdowns and kick-return touchdowns as a rookie. It wasn’t until his second year, though, that he became one of the league’s best receivers.

“I’m not comparing [Jones] to Tyreek,” Poles said in late April. “But I just remember that transformation.”

The Bears are still waiting to see it. Jones has been a little-used gadget player on offense. He has run 12 pass routes all season, catching three balls for 24 yards and dropping the fourth, a 50-yard pass at the front right pylon against the Cowboys. He has run three times for 41 yards.

Jones said he has to improve “everything” about his game.

“That’s why I run extra routes after practice,” he said. “Focus, looking every ball in. With special teams, being on the [pitching] machine, doing everything I can to get better.”

Adding Claypool and eventually promoting Pringle off IR makes finding playing time tougher, though it’s fair to wonder where Equanimeous St. Brown stands after dropping a sure first down on fourth-and-10 toward the end of Sunday’s game. St. Brown has only 11 catches for 164 yards this season. The Bears value run-blocking, though, and Pro Football Focus considers him fifth-best in the league at it.

Will he be on the Bears’ next good team, though? Will Jones?

“Obviously the room’s a little bit fuller now because we’ve got guys back — and with additions of certain players, you’re just in there competing,” Eberflus said. “Do you know your job? Do you know your motions? Do you know how to block the point when we’re running the ball on the perimeter and hustle on the back side? But then it comes down to being a playmaker. That position to me is a game-changer, play-making position. And there’s a lot of competition in there right now, which is good for us.”

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