Why Velus Jones Jr. should return to lineup this Sunday originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
After making mistakes on special teams, and seeing other wide receivers join and rejoin the team, Velus Jones Jr.’s role with the Bears on gameday has gone from small, to smaller and finally nonexistent. Over the past two weeks, the Bears made the third-round rookie a healthy scratch. There’s a chance that could change一 and it probably should change一 this week. With Khalil Herbert on IR, the Bears will need a new kick returner and it could be an opportunity for Jones Jr. to demonstrate that he’s moved past his muffed punts from earlier this season.
“I've seen more and more determination,” said Richard Hightower about Jones Jr.’s demeanor on and off the field. “He's always been determined since he has gotten here, but all rookies and all newcomers or first-year players, they really realize what the league is. We all realize stuff once we get experiences, we learn from them. I've seen nothing but positives from the kid.”
Herbert’s absence also creates a void on offense. Over the past month, he’s played between 28% and 48% of the team’s offensive snaps and has received between seven and 16 carries per game. An uptick in David Montgomery’s usage is probably in order, but Trestan Ebner probably won’t be able to make up the difference alone. So could Jones Jr. contribute in the run game?
“I think we’re going to look at as many different ways as possible to fill that void,” said Luke Getsy. “Nothing will necessarily replace Khalil. He’s done such a nice job for us, we’re looking at a bunch of different things.”
The keyword for Jones Jr. to get back on the field on Sunday is still “consistency” at practice Wednesday through Friday, and in that regard it sounds like he’s improved.
“He’s doing a really good job of that at this point in time,” said wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert. “Hopefully, because I just said that, he’ll get a chance to see some snaps this week. We’ll see.”
Regardless of whether or not Jones Jr. makes it back onto the field against the Falcons, Hightower believes Jones Jr. missing time over the summer hurt his development overall.
“He missed two preseason games and what happens in the season? He has his two preseason games play out during the regular season,” Hightower said. “And what happens if (muffed punts) happens in the preseason? ‘Ahh, it don’t count. He’ll be alright.’ But if it happens in the regular season when the game’s on the line, then it matters more, right? So that’s unfortunate for him, but that’s what you saw play out.
“As a pro, he needs to make it happen in the regular season. We can’t make an excuse for the preseason, right? But that’s what happened, guys. It’s real easy. Now, when, if he ever gets a chance again, we’ll see what happens. Right? Because preseason’s over now.”
At some point Jones Jr. will need another chance. Pulling him off of punt return duties after his Week 6 gaffe was understandable, and probably necessary, because he was hurting the team more than helping it. The Bears want to win each week, and they should. Winning games builds a winning culture, and learning how to close out tightly contested matches will be important for the future. That shouldn’t be understated. But the Bears are also building for the future, and as they slip further and further out of the playoff picture they’ll need to know what they have in each particular player moving forward. That’s especially important with a rookie third-round draft pick, and the Bears can’t fully evaluate Jones Jr. if he’s a healthy scratch week after week. The team doesn’t need to insert Jones Jr. back onto punt returns and kick returns and the offense, all at once, like they tried earlier in the year. They can ease him back in on one phase if needed, but sooner or later they’ll have to do something, because having him sit out the rest of the season won’t help anyone.
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