Bears turn to Christian Jones at linebacker

Chicago Bears undrafted rookie Christian Jones, who plummeted out of the draft following a combine mishap, will likely start at linebacker against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

Christian Jones has come a long way since the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine. It was there in Indianapolis that Jones submitted a “murky sample” during the regulation drug test.

Before the failed drug test, Jones was considered a mid-round draft pick, with some believing him worthy of a second-round pick. Yet when the final selection had been made in the 2014 NFL Draft, Jones was still on the board. It was a sensational drop for an athletic, multi-dimensional defender who was a leader of the national champion Florida State Seminoles.

Yet the disappointment of draft weekend is now a distant memory and on Sunday, Jones is very likely to start at linebacker for the Chicago Bears.

“I try not to let that bother me. I think about it and it’s upsetting a little but it is what it is,” Jones said today. “I feel like, whatever happened in the draft, I’m still in the NFL right now and I’ve got a great opportunity right now. It’s time to take advantage of it.”

Chicago’s top four linebackers – Jon Bostic (back), Lance Briggs (ribs), D.J. Williams (neck) and Shea McClellin (hand) – did not practice today, which thrust Jones, last year’s fourth rounder Khaseem Greene, and Darryl Sharpton into the starting lineup this afternoon.

“We’ve got guys that have got to be ready to go,” Marc Trestman said. “We had Khaseem in there today, Darryl was in there today, Christian was in there today. We had a couple guys we brought back. We got DeDe [Lattimore] back, and that’s where we are.”

McClellin’s broken hand will likely keep him out at least a few more weeks, yet Williams and Briggs are expected to play against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. Yet Bostic, who was knocked out of the Carolina contest with the back injury, may sit this one out. If he does, Jones will fill in at SAM linebacker, as he did for Bostic against the Panthers.

“He’s playing hard, he’s running to the football, he’s certainly very athletic. He’s got length to him,” said Trestman. “He was learning the plays, learning what to do each and every play on the calls and being in the right place. He was [in the right place] a lot of the times, and he made some mistakes along the way. Certainly the opportunity really helped him get acquainted to what it’s like to play in this league on a down-by-down basis.”

Jones made an impact in rookie minicamp and has since steadily progressed under linebackers coach Reggie Herring. He’s also been a key contributor on special teams, to the point where he made Greene, a team leader in special teams tackles last year, expendable the first two weeks of the season.

“It’s the constant coaching of Reggie, the fundamentals and techniques. We see a lot in him. We like having him around,” Trestman said. “He just needs the reps to continue to work and get to know the position and get the opportunity, and he got a little bit of an opportunity last week. He’s getting a lot of work in practice. He’s taking advantage of it. We really are excited about having him with us.”

Jones – a three-year starter at FSU who started at all three linebacker positions and defense end – has turned out to be a valuable asset for the Bears, as injuries continue to pummel the defense for the second year in a row. His time in the starting lineup will only help his development. With Briggs and Williams in their last seasons in Chicago, Jones could emerge as a starter for the Bears as early as next year.

That audition will begin on Sunday, when Jones will very likely make his first NFL start. According to Jones, his level of success against the Falcons will be directly proportionate to his level of preparation this week.

“Throughout practice, we prepare to go against this offense. When you’re well prepared, you don’t really think, you just kind of react. I think that’s how it’s going to be on Sunday,” Jones said. “There will be times where things go wrong but you can always fix them on the sidelines. If we take what we learned in the meeting rooms, we’ll be fine.”

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