After another Velus Jones muffed punt, Bears vow to focus on fundamentals

The last thing Velus Jones could afford to do Saturday was cough up the ball. He did just that.

SHARE After another Velus Jones muffed punt, Bears vow to focus on fundamentals
Bears wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. walks back to the line of scrimmage in the preseason opener against the Tennessee Titans on Saturday.

Bears wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. walks back to the line of scrimmage in the preseason opener against the Tennessee Titans on Saturday.

Owen Ziliak/Sun-Times

The last thing Velus Jones could afford to do Saturday was cough up the ball.

He did just that.

On the first play of the second quarter, Jones let a punt hit at the 37-yard line — he was at the 35 — then had to backpedal to try to catch the ball on the bounce. He reached for the ball, muffed it and was hit by Titans safety Mike Brown. The ball caromed off Brown’s back and was recovered by Titans linebacker Luke Gifford.

Bears coach Matt Eberflus spoke to Jones — who let the first punt of the game bounce but fielded it without incident — after he ran back to the sideline. The Bears soon switched punt returners.

“It comes down to fundamentals; it comes down to technique,” Eberflus said. “We’re going to work on that. Reading the flight of the ball, getting ourselves in position early, then getting underneath the football and squeezing the ball down on the catch.”

Eberflus said both punts were difficult to catch. The Titans’ Ryan Stonehouse left them short on purpose.

Jones is blessed with otherworldly speed but needs to prove he can be trusted to secure the ball. He fumbled two of his five punt returns last year — both times in the fourth quarter of losses — and was benched. He returned 22 kickoffs for 607 yards.

He did not return kickoffs against the Titans. Rookie Tyler Scott did.

Unlike last year, the Bears’ receivers room is crowded. Jones needs to provide special-teams value just to make the team.

Starters out

The Bears played without four defensive starters: defensive ends DeMarcus Walker and Yannick Ngakoue, linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and safety Jaquan Brisker.

Elijah Hicks started at safety, and Jack Sanborn moved from strong-side linebacker to middle to take Edmunds’ place. Rookie Noah Sewell played on the strong side when the Bears weren’t in nickel. Rasheem Green and Dominique Robinson started at defensive end.

Eberflus deemed Walker, Brisker and Edmunds day-to-day and said the Bears were hopeful they could participate in joint practices against the Colts this week.

Wide receiver Chase Claypool and right guard Nate Davis remained out with injuries. Other notable players who didn’t participate included guard/center Lucas Patrick, cornerbacks Terell Smith and Josh Blackwell, tight end Marcedes Lewis and wide receiver Dante Pettis.

RB splits

Running back Khalil Herbert started the game and was replaced by veteran D’Onta Foreman. Both had three carries, with Herbert gaining 15 yards and Foreman nine.

Rookie Roschon Johnson played the second half and had 12 carries for 44 yards, including a long run of 24. Trestan Ebner left in the second quarter with an injury.

This and that

Asked how first-round pick Darnell Wright played in his first NFL game, Eberflus said he’d have to consult the game tape but thought there were “a couple of snaps where he looked good.” The right tackle admitted to being nervous.

“Crowd was amazing,” he said. “I was nervous — had butterflies — but it was fun.”

υ Rapper Lil Durk attended the game between back-to-back headlining shows at the United Center. He met Justin Fields and Bears president/CEO Kevin Warren.

υ Kicker Cairo Santos made field goals of 28, 29 and 49 yards.

υ The Bears sold 59,829 tickets.

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