Bears LT Braxton Jones practices vs. Robert Quinn as star pass rushers loom
The Bears will get a good idea of how ready Jones is for his Week 1 opponent (the 49ers’ Nick Bosa) if he gets some snaps against Browns star Myles Garrett on Saturday.
That rookie left tackle Braxton Jones made it to this point is impressive. He’s a fifth-round pick from Southern Utah who immediately stormed the depth chart and has fought off every challenger to hold his spot.
But soon the challenges will come from the outside.
When the Bears face the 49ers on Sept. 11, Jones will be their first rookie to start at left tackle since Troy Auzenne in 1992. And he’ll begin his career by taking on two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Nick Bosa, who was fourth in the NFL in sacks last season at 15½.
So the preseason finale Saturday against the Browns, whose pass rush is powered by two-time All-Pro Myles Garrett and veteran Jadeveon Clowney, is as important for Jones as anybody else in the offense.
If either or both play — Garrett said Wednesday he was unsure of his status, though coach Kevin Stefanski indicated he plans to play starters — the Bears will get a good idea of how ready Jones is for Bosa.
“I’m just thinking about what’s ahead,” Jones said, trying to keep the conversation centered on the Browns rather than the season opener. “That’s a big task, as well.”
In the meantime, Jones has prepared by sparring with defensive end Robert Quinn in practice. Quinn set the franchise record with 18½ sacks last season.
“It’s helped me progress a lot in the last few months,” Jones said. “But just making it come to life in the game is the biggest thing. Some of the rushers just don’t get to the point as quick as Robert Quinn does. . . . They want to run around the edge.
“Robert Quinn gets to you really quickly, so then your hands are much quicker. But when it’s a longer wait, I still have to have that punch timing.”
The Bears haven’t finalized their plans for the season yet, but it looks increasingly likely that rookie wide receiver Velus Jones will be their punt returner.
Jones muffed the opening kickoff last week against the Seahawks but rebounded nicely with a 48-yard punt return to set up a touchdown.
“Anytime you can create separation and space for a guy like Velus that has 4.3 speed, it can be a mismatch, and he definitely did what we expected him to do,” special-teams coordinator Richard Hightower said. “He can go from 0 to 10 in a hurry . . . and he’s got good vision.
“Those guys usually get more excited blocking for a guy they know has a chance to go to the house. They’re gonna block anyway, but there’s a little extra juice when you’ve got a guy back there that you know can make a play.”
Special teams appears to be the Bears’ quickest way to get value out of Jones, whom they drafted in the third round at No. 71 overall. In 24 offensive plays against Seattle, he had only two targets and caught one pass for four yards.
He’s in question for the Browns game, though, after missing practice Wednesday with an unspecified injury.
In addition to Jones, several other players who could use the snaps against the Browns are question marks after missing practice.
Cornerbacks Thomas Graham and Tavon Young, both potential roster selections, were out of practice, as well.
At running back, Khalil Herbert was back at practice but not a full participant, and rookie Trestan Ebner remained out.
The Bears also missed veteran defensive linemen Angelo Blackson and Mario Edwards.