Christian Jones continues to ascend for Bears

While folks discuss Kyler Fuller, Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton as the future of the Chicago Bears defense, the real gem of this year’s rookie class could come in the form of undrafted linebacker Christian Jones.

Chicago Bears veteran linebacker Lance Briggs is in the final year of his contract. At 33 years old, it’s highly likely this will be his last year in the Windy City.

The inevitable end to Briggs’ career in Chicago should come as no surprise to anyone. Briggs is one of the last holdovers from the Lovie Smith era and isn’t in the club’s long-term plans.

GM Phil Emery knows the writing is on the wall as well, which is why he invested second- and fourth-round picks in last year’s draft on Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene respectively.

Most assumed Greene, who was labeled a prototypical weak-side linebacker following a stellar career at Rutgers – he was Big East Defensive Player of the Year and a First-Team All American in 2012 – would be the heir apparent to Briggs at WILL.

That assumption was furthered after Greene started seven games in place of Briggs last year, and again the past two weeks.

Yet not all is right with Greene, who has yet to grasp and claim his role as Briggs’ predecessor.

“Khaseem didn't play a perfect game,” defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said yesterday. “I don't think any of us did and we all need to get better.”

One player who has been getting better is Christian Jones, the club’s undrafted rookie out of Florida State.

“Christian, we like when he's on the field,” Tucker said. “He's done a good job so far. He's physical. He plays fast. That's what we like.”

Jones started at strong-side linebacker alongside Greene and Darryl Sharpton in the Week 6 victory over the Atlanta Falcons, but resumed his backup role last week with the return of Jon Bostic and Shea McClellin.

Yet Jones didn’t sit the entire game, as he eventually replaced Greene at WILL in the fourth quarter.

“We just wanted to get him some work,” said Tucker. “He played well when we played against Atlanta, did some good things. We felt like we wanted to get him in there and he did a good job when he was in there.”

Remember, Jones was a mid-round talent heading into the NFL Scouting Combine last year, yet a failed drug test led to him going undrafted. The Bears swooped in and nabbed a player some thought might be drafted as high as the second or third round. The move to grab Jones, who has climbed his way up the depth chart since the first day of rookie minicamp, has paid dividends immediately.

“I’ve just been able to take coaching,” Jones told Bear Report. “I try to take what they teach us in the meeting room out to the field. I’ve got older guys around me that support me and give me confidence when I’m out there. That helps me out a lot.”

While Jones started at SAM in Week 6, he’s played a lot of WILL in Tucker’s defense, the same position as Greene.

“When I go in the nickel, I play the WILL spot. That’s kind of what I’ve been doing since I’ve been here,” said Jones.

Jones has positional versatility at linebacker, with experience as a defensive end, where he played his senior season at FSU. That experience as an edge rusher gives him added value as a blitzer.

“We have some blitzes where they’ll let me rush,” said Jones. “So I get my chances to blitz a little bit.”

Jones (6-4, 231) is a big linebacker who plays with speed. The past two weeks, he’s shown power at the point of attack, good range and the ability to close quickly on ball carriers.

In addition, special team coordinator Joe DeCamillis uses Jones as a core piece of the team’s third phase. Remember, Greene was a healthy scratch the first two weeks of the season and was replaced by Jones on game day. That right there says a lot about how each player is viewed in the eyes of the coaching staff.

Even from the very start, the Bears placed more value in Jones over Greene in special teams, while also showing faith in Jones to be a priority backup linebacker from Day 1.

Now, because he’s played like the mid-round talent he is, Jones could be on the verge of even more playing time. When asked if Jones has earned the right to start, Tucker replied: “Well, we'll see how it turns out. We'll see how this week goes in practice. He'll get what he earns.”

Briggs and Bostic returned to practice this week and will likely resume their roles as starters if they are healthy enough to play against the New England Patriots. Yet McClellin has struggled at SAM and looked entirely out of place last week.

With McClellin and Greene struggling, and Bostic and Briggs still mending, Jones has a great opportunity to claim more game-day snaps.

“We feel good with the group that we have and we'll continue to compete and practice and see how the lineup shakes out for this weekend,” said Tucker.

In the long-term, Jones could be even more valuable. D.J. Williams is also on a one-year contract, and unlikely to return, meaning two starting linebacker spots will become available this offseason. And if McClellin and Bostic can’t find consistency, all three positions could be on the table.

If Jones continues to develop at his current pace, he could become an integral part of the defense as early as next season. When you consider the ascension of fellow rookies Kyle Fuller, Ego Ferguson, Will Sutton and Brock Vereen, all of whom have cracked the starting lineup this year, the future is bright for Tucker’s defense.

“I feel we can go as high as we want to go. We’ve got a lot of talent on the team,” Jones said. “It’s exciting just to see all those guys playing on the field. You kind of get a glimpse of what could happen in the future. It’s exciting to see that.”

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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. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.

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