Velus Jones Jr. Had a Good Day at Wednesday’s Bears-Colts Joint Practice

Once you remove the obvious candidates from consideration, I think there is a compelling case that Velus Jones Jr. is the most fascinating player to follow at Chicago Bears camp. The second-year receiver has his back against the wall going into the 2023 season. Jones’ rookie year was a disappointment. He never gained traction as a receiver, struggled as a punt returner, and even found himself in Head Coach Matt Eberflus’ doghouse. It wasn’t pretty, but at least Jones was able to finish the year on a high note with an electrifying touchdown scamper.

I came into the year wanting to give VJJ a clean slate, and I had good reason to do so. After all, Jones was quick to get to work in the offseason in an attempt to hone his craft. Hard work tends to pay off for NFL players in the offseason. Throughout training camp, there have been moments in which I felt Jones was looking better and more comfortable. Positive vibes surrounding Jones were building. Well, they were … and then he muffed the first punt he saw in the preseason. Re-watching this gives me the ick:

That “here we go again…” feeling was unshakable. Audible groans from Soldier Field could’ve been heard across the city. And I quickly reached a point where I didn’t want to see Jones returning punts again. Frankly, there is part of me that feels as if I can’t take the Bears seriously as postseason contenders if Jones is their top punt return option. But who was the first Bears player fielding punts during Wednesday’s Bears-Colts joint practice? That’s right, Velus Jones Jr. was the first guy out there with Dante Pettis right behind him. I’ll admit my stomach sank a little. And then something unexpected happened. Jones cleanly fielded the punt with no issues — and then proceeded to have a heckuva practice.

It was so encouraging to see Jones bounce back from Saturday’s blunder to have a strong showing in his first public practice. For me, this is a sign that Jones could play his way into a roster spot even if he isn’t a punt return option. For the Bears, that would be good news because it would be unfortunate if the first offensive player drafted by GM Ryan Poles was a one-and-done.

For what it’s worth, the Bears don’t seem to be ready to quit the Velus punt-returning experiment. I suppose they were never going to pull the plug at the first sign of trouble. Earlier in camp, Offensive Coordinator Luke Getsy was talking about Jones’ development as a wide receiver. And while he wasn’t talking about VJJ as a punt returner, I think the same concepts apply:

While receivers are on our mind, I find it encouraging that Jason Lieser (Sun-Times) sees second-year receiver Velus Jones Jr. is having a strong start to camp. And it brings us another great quote from Getsy:

“Velus has always worked really hard at it — always has. You can see it when he breaks the huddle. Last year it was like, ‘Am I even going left or right the correct way?’ He’s getting in his spot and he’s doing his assignments at a much higher rate. So all that stuff, you can see it in his game.”

As someone who believes that it is telling how someone handles adversity, I like what I saw from Jones on Wednesday. I hope to see more of it on Thursday. But, more importantly, I want to see it on game day. If the Bears insist on using Jones as a punt returner, then I hope he gets every opportunity to try and succeed. Because if he does, then he’ll have that much more value to this Bears team. Yes, I still stand by what I’ve written about VJJ having a role on this team and a spot on the 53-player roster. I’m still going to be angsty if he is The Guy returning punts. It’ll be risky, but maybe the team feels the juice is worth the squeeze.

At a minimum, we’ve got a comeback story to root for at Bears camp. There are blank pages to fill and Velus Jones Jr. has the pen. I’m looking forward to seeing how his story goes.

written by

Luis C. Medina, who you can find on Twitter at lcm1986, has been covering the Chicago Bears at Bleacher Nation since 2017. Since then, he has written about 3 head coaches, 5 play-callers, and 11 starting quarterbacks. Previously, Luis wrote about the Cubs and MLB at BN (2015-16) and worked in the Chicago Tribune sports department (2011-16). He also co-hosted a Cubs postgame show, Outside the Ivy, in 2019.

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