A failed drug test at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine cost Christian Jones potentially millions of dollars.
Yet for the Chicago Bears, Jones’ mishap in Indianapolis was a blessing, as they were more than willing to take a chance on an FSU team captain.
Jones was considered a mid-round pick in this year’s draft, with some analysts mocking him in the second round, yet a cloudy sample left him undrafted. It didn’t take the Bears very long to swoop in and claim the All-ACC linebacker.
Throughout the offseason and into training camp and the preseason, Jones has been impressive. He’s big (6-3, 240) and fast, and has experience at multiple positions. As a result, Jones, known as “Big Cheese” to his coaches, is now a member of Chicago’s 53-man roster.
“I finally made the team and I couldn't be happier about that,” Jones told Bear Report. “I come from a high-powered college program at Florida State so I felt well prepared coming in but you never know until you know for sure. I spent last week and all day Saturday feeling pretty nervous. I tried to distract myself, watching movies on my iPad, driving around, talking to friends, but the decision was still in the back of my mind. When I finally found out that I'd made the roster, I felt tremendous relief. It’s one thing to believe you'll make the team. It’s something completely different to know you've made the team. Now I can go back to living my life.
“From here it’s a matter of moving forward. I've never been one to rest and think I have everything figured out. That's just not my nature. I think I showed the coaches that I can play linebacker and that I could be effective on special teams. They want versatility. That was what they were looking for from me. I feel I can contribute on defense later on but now I concentrate only on what is in front of me and that is special teams.”
Jones has worked at both outside linebacker spots with the second and third teams, and has not looked out of place.
“I feel that I belong here,” said Jones. “I had a strong showing through OTAs, rookie minicamp and [training] camp. I'm not afraid of hard work and I am willing to do what is necessary to succeed at this level. The situation feels comfortable for me. The intensity is much higher and the speed is greater, but other than that, it’s all football, just like I've been playing it for most of my life.”
Under coordinator Joe DeCamillis, much will be expected of Jones, who will be a key cog for the club’s third phase this season.
“In college you do have special teams and I played that often, but the emphasis is so different from what it is in the NFL. Here is it very serious, very important,” said Jones. “It’s an approach that I understand and embrace. If I end up as a linebacker at some point, then fine. Right now I think of myself first of all as a special teams guy.
“My progress seems OK so far. I catch myself making the common rookie mistake of thinking too much when I'm on the field. That really can slow you down. I'm out there and I hear Joe D shouting ‘Run run run!’ at me. Believe me, when I hear that, I speed up considerably. I've been studying the playbook and watching a lot of film. At this stage it’s important to learn all that I can in a short period of time. The NFL has little patience for a big rookie learning curve.”
Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said this week he would feel comfortable inserting Jones at linebacker if the need arises, due to his young linebacker’s on-field consistency the past three months.
“He was physical. He played fast. He is aggressive and he did what we asked him to do,” Tucker said. “He did it day in and day out and he was consistent with that and so obviously he has the tools with the height, weight, speed but the toughness, mental and physical on a day-to-day basis, coming to work everyday and doing what we asked him to do, that is why he has earned the role that he is in now.”
Ideally, Jones won’t see the field on defense as a rookie. The coaching staff would rather he learn from the established veterans his first year in the league. Jones said he’ll spend that time attempting to perfect his craft.
“I’m taking apart my technique and putting it back together so everything is perfect. Being less than perfect can slow you down. I also watch the vets play every chance I get. That's the opportunity to learn from the best.
“What I've noticed here in the NFL is the importance of detail. Every little detail counts. You want to be sure that you take all of what you hear about in meetings on to the practice field or the coaches will call you on it. That and repetition. Perfection is expected. It’s what we all strive for. Everything is a big deal and everything is important. In college special teams wasn't emphasized. Here, it is. They expect ability and execution all of the time, especially on special teams.”
For Jones, the opportunity to play on Sunday, something he’s never done before, is a dream come true. That reality will set in at roughly noon this Sunday when the Bears host the Buffalo Bills in the regular-season opener.
“I'm definitely looking forward to this game. I realized that this is the first time in my long football career that I have played in a game on a Sunday. This is a big deal. It all counts. There is a noticeable difference in the atmosphere around Halas Hall this week. Everything is urgent and serious. I can't even imagine what it will be like to come out of the tunnel at game time with the crowd making all that noise. A dream come true for me. My friends will be watching and my parents are coming in from Florida to see me in person.
“The best part is that several of my buddies from college are playing now for the Bills. We haven't been in contact much recently as we've all been so busy but I definitely want to catch up with them after the game. My plan is to make a point of rubbing it in once the Bears have won.”
Going forward, Jones has long-term potential. He’s a hard-hitting outside linebacker who can run sideline to sideline. He also played the majority of his senior year as a defensive end, so he offers positional versatility as well.
But all good things come in time. For now, Jones is focused on the task at hand, while attempting to enjoy the ride.
“I'm so excited and so happy,” he said. “The nerves will come because this is my first NFL game but it’s going to be fun. I can't wait for Sunday.”
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 14 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.