How Bears' Velus Jones Jr. responded to healthy scratch vs. Dolphins

Velus sees healthy scratch as latest 'lesson' in NFL journey originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Velus Jones Jr. has been here before. In college, the Bears rookie wide receiver attended USC out of high school but struggled to get on the field for head coach Clay Helton. Jones eventually transferred to Tennessee, where his speed and play-making ability put him on the Bears' radar.

Now Jones once again finds himself making an uphill climb for playing time. The 25-year-old was supposed to be one of the key weapons in a Bears' passing attack that lacks true game-breakers. But Jones battled hamstring injuries out of camp, muffed two punts upon his return, and was a healthy scratch last Sunday for the Bears' 35-32 Week 9 loss to the Miami Dolphins.

With the addition of Chase Claypool, Jones now sits sixth on the depth chart behind Claypool, Darnell Mooney, Equanimeous St. Brown, N'Keal Harry, and Dante Pettis.

Being a healthy scratch was a message to Jones that he has to improve in all areas and prove to his coaches that he can help the team on Sundays. He tried to attack this week with a positive competitiveness he hopes will keep him on an upward trajectory back to playing on gamedays.

“Me personally, my standards are real high for myself," Jones told NBC Sports Chicago on Friday about his week of practice and response to the healthy scratch. "I feel like I could have did better, but that’s why it’s practice. Just keep working, perfecting your craft. Make sure I get a lot of work after practice with JUGS, and, you know, lock into the game plan mentally as if I was playing.

"That’s how you got to take it. You got to take a lesson from everything. You got to find the positivity. We all know how that road gets once you start getting down on yourself. You go to a dark place. It’s all about staying positive, and what I can do to perfect my craft and get back on the field to help my team.”

The path back to the field for Jones starts on the practice field, both on offense and special teams. Head coach Matt Eberflus was clear that the Bears plan to do what's best for the team that Sunday and won't hand Jones playing time just because he's a third-round rookie.

"I would really say about all the receivers, just compete," Eberflus said. "Obviously, the room’s a little bit fuller now because we’ve got guys back, and with additions of certain players, you’re just in there competing. So it starts with alignment, assignment, key, and technique — do you know your job? Do you know your motions? Do you know how to block the point, when we’re running the ball on the perimeter and hustle on the back side, but then it comes down to being a playmaker? That position to me, is a game-changer, play-making position."

Coming out of Tennessee, the knock on Jones, other than his age, was that he profiled more as a gadget player who relied on manufactured touches because of his imprecise route-running.

Wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert believes Jones has made big strides in the route-running department since training camp. But Jones sees his most significant growth coming in the area Eberflus points to as the gateway to the field -- knowing his job.

“I feel like my game has grown the most with learning the system, also route running and things like that," Jones told NBC Sports Chicago. "But knowing the system and the concepts and everything and being really comfortable in the huddle, processing the play call and then going out there and executing. Really proud of myself. I’ve came a long way when it comes to that part.”

Jones heard the message from the Bears. He's looking at the bright side of the early-career challenge the Bears have given him. He knows he has to continue to grow in the system and that mistakes like the dropped 53-yard touchdown pass against the Dallas Cowboys are inexcusable.

But he also knows that there's no transfer option at the professional level. He has to climb the depth chart with his work each and every day. He's prepared to do that.

“As a competitor, no matter if you’re the best at your position or you’re trying to be the best at your position, you got to get better each and every week," Jones told NBC Sports Chicago. "This is the National Football League. You’re a pro now. So for me, find ways to create value and just keep grinding each and every week. Put in extra work to make sure you’re ready to go.”

Eberflus said Jones was inactive against the Dolphins due to a numbers game on special teams. With Pettis now returning punts, the Bears didn't need Jones on teams and were comfortable sitting him down.

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At 3-6, many would suggest the Bears simply play Jones to see what they have in him for the future. But that's not the Matt Eberflus way.

"We’re doing what’s best for us," Eberflus said when asked if Jones should get more opportunity because he's a rookie."Certainly, we look at that and we understand that. But we do that more in practice, but for the game we’re gonna put the best guys up for the game to win that game."

Jones may very well be inactive again Sunday when the Bears host the Detroit Lions. But he'll absorb that lesson, find the positivity, and get back to work Monday at Halas Hall.

He knows that's the only way back to the field.

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