Chicago Bears: Braxton Jones ready to compete for starting job

Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports /

Chicago Bears rookie offensive lineman Braxton Jones has emerged as a surprise candidate for a starting job. He worked hard during camps and now is ready to compete during training camp.

One of the biggest concerns for the Chicago Bears this offseason was the same as it has been for the last decade or so — the offensive line. The unit has struggled so much and those struggles have prevented the offense from becoming at least decent.

If the offensive line isn’t doing its job the offense cannot succeed.

With Ryan Poles as the new general manager, many expect an added focus on the line. Previous general managers always talked a good game, commenting on how important the offensive line was.

When it came down to building the Chicago Bears roster, however, the importance fell. Offensive linemen were low on the totem pole. Building the line ended up dependent on using bubble gum and string to put it together.

Some people started worrying when Poles didn’t exactly hit the free agent market and pick up linemen. His biggest signing was center Lucas Patrick. However, he did create some magic and finished the draft with 11 picks. Out of those, four of them were offensive linemen.

Many expected the draft picks to just provide depth. They didn’t expect any of them to really be big contributors on the line. The prevailing thought was that Teven Jenkins, Cody Whitehair, Patrick, and Larry Borom would be the starters. The only position that is unsettled is at right guard.

Now it seems that there are more unsettled questions. Whitehair and Patrick seem like the only locks. Borom went from right tackle to left tackle. Jenkins went from left tackle to right.

Then there was more movement. Borom moved back to right tackle while Jenkins went to playing with the second team. Who manned the starting left tackle spot, then?

A rookie, Braxton Jones, ended up at that spot. Jones worked hard during all the camps and OTAs. As a result, he found himself working with the starters.

While head coach Matt Eberflus said that he was just trying to use different combinations to see which ones are the best, seeing Jones practice with the starters for an extended period of time looks good for him.

Jones was the Bears; fifth-round pick. He came out of Southern Utah. He has experience at left and right tackle, but his primary position is on the left side. He is 6-foot-5 and weighs 310 pounds. He is exactly what Poles and Eberflus want from their linemen — lean and athletic.

This is the opposite of what previous Bears coaches wanted when they went after huge guys. Now, with leaner guys, linemen can move around and pull more.

Chicago Bears area scout David Williams, who was mostly responsible for bringing Jones to Chicago, had high praise for him.

"What I love about Braxton is how they talked about him at the school. His head coach at the time, Demario Warren, his offensive line coach, they highlighted his football intelligence. He was a two-time team captain… He’s a nice kid. He’s not going to come in here thinking he’s got a big ego that he’s made it. He’s just looking for that next step to grow. He’s got those type of intangibles that we’re really excited about."

Those same traits Williams spoke about were on full display during camps and OTAs. Now he put himself in a position to pull off the improbable — becoming the starting left tackle and being Justin Fields‘ blindside.

Just as Williams said, Jones has no ego about where he finds himself. He knows he isn’t a finished project and says he wants to get one percent better every day. He hasn’t done anything yet and he knows it.

The position he’s in is great but until he goes out there Week 1 as the starter he knows nothing has been accomplished.

Jones embraces the higher scrutiny now that he’s with the starters. He understands that he cannot make the same mistakes and that people will be harder on him.

"I think they’ve been harder on me, and I like it like that. Even going against a guy like Cody Whitehair, he’s hard on me. Every play, he’s like c’mon, you’ve got to get off the ball, you’ve got to do this, and so I think it’s great for me, and then getting on me a little bit more is something I need. The respect is there, but also I think the level of ‘let’s go’ is there as well."

Jones still has a long road ahead of him. The question is whether Eberflus and Poles want to have a rookie left tackle trying to help Fields. Borom has a season under his belt, but it wasn’t a full one. He suffered an injury and missed a good chunk of the year.

Additionally, Jenkins could find himself starting at right guard. He also had his season truncated due to an injury.

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Would the Chicago Bears be willing to use three inexperienced players on the line? Well, if we go with the understanding that this is a lost season anyway, and you want to see what you have for the rebuild going forward, then why not have those three on the line?