The name Justin Jones didn’t even register for Chicago Bears fans before NFL free agency began last March. He was an afterthought. A second-tier guy that wasn’t worth the research. That changed when the Bears were forced to revoke their deal with defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi over a failed physical. GM Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus had to pivot to their backup option quickly, and that was Jones.
The veteran defensive lineman was mostly known as a good run-stopper until last season. His pass rush skills were met with shrugs. Then he delivered a career-high three sacks in 11 games for the Los Angeles Chargers. It was the first sign the light may have switched on a little bit in that department. His technique and ability to generate pressure looked much better. Guards and centers couldn’t simply control him with one blocker anymore.
Justin Jones causes Lock to step up, Joey Bosa then forces the fumble. Great stuff on this play, minus not coming up with the ball of course. pic.twitter.com/EVqlvMfkk8
— Steven Haglund (@StevenIHaglund) December 3, 2021
Ok Justin Jones
— Austin F (@PodGuyFuges) March 18, 2022
Justin Jones’ arrival in Chicago is a talking point here.
Since he arrived as a 3rd round pick in 2018, Jones never played in the type of defense that Eberflus and his staff employ. Anybody with a good memory of Bears history knows it well. It’s the Lovie Smith-style Tampa-2 scheme. While many positions are important in its function, few hold greater weight than the three-technique interior pass rusher. Their ability to generate pressure up the middle makes the entire machine work.
Up until now, Justin Jones has never gotten legitimate pass rush snaps, hovering around the 300-per-season range. The top interior rushers often average closer to the 500-600 plateau. Presuming Jones can stay healthy, he figures to see that workload in 2022. Then there is the added presence of Eberflus himself. He has a strong track record of elevating defensive linemen far above expectations. In fact, he’s seen a project like Jones before.
Back in 2018, the Indianapolis Colts signed an overlooked 3-4 defensive end named Denico Autry. Like Jones, he was coming off a decent 2017 in Oakland (5 sacks) but people weren’t sure how much impact he could have in a different scheme. Eberflus shifted him to defensive tackle, and the veteran set a career-high with nine sacks.
If that weren’t enough, Jones had a similar end to his college career as Autry did. The latter had six sacks over his final two seasons, while Jones had 6.5. It isn’t crazy to think the new Bears addition can duplicate what Autry accomplished in Indianapolis. Especially since he figures to see plenty of single blocks due to the presence of Robert Quinn and Trevis Gipson on the edges.
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