Justin Jones feeling at home in Bears’ defense
The former Chargers defensive lineman, who signed with the Bears only after Larry Ogunjobi failed a physical, has acclimated quickly as a three-technique tackle. ”That’s a position I feel like I was born to play,” he said.
Matt Eberflus’ defense is all about putting the right player in the right spot. Under general manager Ryan Poles and Eberflus, the Bears have been very specific about what they like, what they don’t like and finding the perfect fit to bring out the best in players — from established stars to high-potential rookies to low-profile NFL grinders.
So it’s no surprise that defensive tackle Justin Jones feels more at home as the three-technique under Eberflus and defensive coordinator Alan Williams than he ever has in his five NFL seasons. He was productive as a three-year starter with the Chargers. He can be better with the Bears.
“That’s a position I feel I was born to play,” Jones said. “I’m an explosive athlete. I get off the ball. I knock guys back. I disrupt guys. I can rush. All the guys know this, and this gives me the opportunity to be the beast that I know I am.”
As much as training camp allows for snap judgments, Jones has been better than advertised — a pleasant surprise for a player who was not the first choice of Poles and Eberflus for the three-technique position. Only after a three-year, $40.5 million deal to sign former Bengal defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi fell threw when Ogunjobi failed his physical did the Bears turn to Jones.
It was a key recovery by Poles and Eberflus that could be critical. The three-technique is the most important position in Eberflus’ defense. (Weak-side linebacker Shaquille Leonard became an All-Pro who earned a five-year, $98 million contract in Eberflus’ defense with the Colts, but Pro Bowl three-technique DeForest Buckner, who signed a four-year, $84 million deal, earns more per season.)
Ogunjobi eventually signed a one-year, $8 million contract with the Steelers on June 21 — and only after Stephon Tuitt’s sudden retirement June 1 created a need.
The Bears didn’t have the time to wait for Ogunjobi — he did not practice with the Steelers until Monday. Comparisons will be inevitable as the 2022 season ensues. But for now, Jones is excited that fate has put him in the right place at the right time as a three-technique in Eberflus’ defense.
“Man, I put the hand in the dirt, and it’s man-on-man,” Jones said. “This is all those reps in the weight room — those sprints, those get-offs, those bag drills. This is everything we’re working on.
“Last year [with the Chargers], I was in a frog-stance. I’m not a frog-stance player. I’m trying to put that foot down and get off. That’s what guys expect out of me. That’s what I’m going to bring.”
Losing Ogunjobi put the Bears in a tough spot. But they didn’t just settle for Jones. They saw potential for him to be productive in the three-technique spot.
“They played a lot of under defense where the three-technique’s away from the tight end, and he showed that he could really play that spot,” Eberflus said. “So it’s a place where he’s comfortable and he’s played before and he’s continuing to grow. So we like where he is.”
Jones has bonded with defensive line coach Travis Smith to work on the nuances that make a three-technique effective.
“It’s a couple of things with a little step,” Jones said. “The scheme I was in last year, you can kind of see it a little bit in this scheme sometimes with the step. Coach Trav has been reminding me, ‘Let’s get that right. Let’s get that right.’ So I get in my stance, it’s replaying in my head, ‘Let’s get that right.’
“So every snap, I’m making sure that I apply that and get up out of there. That’s going to make me a better player. That’s going to make the scheme so much better. Just like that.”