If Christian Jones is going to be a building block for the Bears’ defense as coordinator Vic Fangio has said he could be, the young linebacker has built himself into a bigger one.
As in 10 pounds bigger.
“I just knew [being] in a 3-4 [defense] you have more of a downhill type of alignment,” Jones said. “I just wanted to be more stout.”
To become that, Jones spent this offseason adding extra bulk to his already formidable frame. After being listed at 240 pounds during his rookie season, Jones said he now hovers around the low 250s.
“I’m just anxious to keep playing,” he said.
Both starting spots at inside linebacker are open in Fangio’s 3-4 defense, but one could turn into Jones’ to lose. The Bears’ new staff has high hopes for Jones as he prepares for his second season after going undrafted out of Florida State.
As Fangio said, Jones, similar to linebacker Shea McClellin, has talent and “should be able to find a spot in our defense somewhere.” Jones, McClellin and cornerback Kyle Fuller have been openly lauded by the Bears’ new staff for their potential.
“[Jones has] got good size,” Fangio said. “He’s got good athletic ability. He’s a young, eager guy, and football’s important to him. He’s got a bright future if he can develop.”
But words are just words right now, Jones said, especially when the Bears only are in their second session of organized team activities this week at Halas Hall. Training camp is weeks away.
“I mean that’s pretty cool hearing him say that,” Jones said of Fangio’s compliments about him. “But it’s still early right now. It’s still a new staff. I still have to go out there and perform.”
There are eight players vying for playing time at inside linebacker, but the main competition should be between Jones, McClellin, Jon Bostic and free-agent signee Mason Foster.
Overall, inside linebacker is a young and inexperienced. Jones, McClellin, Bostic and Foster have combined for 86 starts at linebacker. It includes 54 by Foster, who spent the past four seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. None of them have started in a 3-4 base defense.
In other words, Fangio and his staff have to find answers. Fangio is leaving behind the San Francisco 49ers, where Navorro Bowman and Patrick Willis were All-Pro linebackers.
Jones said he does have some familiarity with Fangio’s philosophies. He played inside linebacker in Florida State’s hybrid defense before moving outside.
“[Fangio] seems like he wants to teach us,” said Jones, who started five games last season. “He’s not one of those guys who gets on your back and starts yelling at you. He’s all about: If you make mistake, let’s talk about it, let’s fix it, and move on to the next play. I like that coaching style and I feel like the players respond better to it.”
Jones and McClellin have played alongside each other during OTAs. There are differences at the inside spots – “Mike” and “Jack” — and McClellin has been handing defensive calls.
“[It’s a] little bit different, but similar,” Jones said of the inside linebacker spots. “Sometimes we’re in motion, we don’t switch and we just play each other’s spots. There’s some [responsibilities] that are a little bit different.
“But at the end of the day, it’s an inside linebacker spot, and we both have coverage and run-gap responsibilities.”
“We” would include McClellin, and Jones enjoys playing next to him.
“He’s an athletic guy, and he’s smart, too,” Jones said. “He picks up a lot of stuff. He can do a lot of different things. I feel like we’re in the same situation. We finally get a spot, and I feel like we can both flourish at it.”