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Saturday Spotlight: Christian Jones

Throughout the 2021 NFL season, we’ll spotlight a Bears player in a weekly column. This week, we’ll take an in-depth look at linebacker and special teamer Christian Jones.

Buffalo Bills v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Name: Christian Jones

Position: Linebacker

Number: 57

Age: 30

Time with Bears: 5th Season

The Past:

Christian Jones saw the other grass, and decided Soldier Field’s is just as green.

The son of former Super Bowl champion Willie Jones, Christian was a 4-star recruit (ESPN) out of high school who opted to play for his father’s - and brother’s - alma mater: Florida State University. His high school scouting report reads of promise and versatility, praising his size and motor and hyperbolizing that there “might not be a more impressive looking outside linebacker than Jones in [the 2010] class.” Quite the praise for an 18-year old kid.

He didn’t take any time to adapt to the college game, playing in all 14 games for the Seminoles in 2010. He excelled as a true freshman despite being on a Florida State team which went 10-4 and was runners-up for the ACC Championship. Jones was voted as the team’s best freshman on defense with the Devaughn Darling Award, and finished his freshman season with stats of 16 total tackles, 3.0 sacks, and a highlight play fumble recovery in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.

The best was yet to come, though. His sophomore season for the Seminoles, he found himself thrust into the starting lineup and finished second on the team with 56 tackles on 13/13 starts. He added 3.0 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 1 fumble recovery in 2011. The next year he moved from strongside linebacker to weakside, but a different position didn’t mean he didn’t still lead the team in tackles. No, his 95 tackles lead the team and found himself on national lists, adding a scoop-and-score touchdown to his highlight reel. He topped 2012 with 7 TFLs and 2 passes defensed for Florida State’s defense which was ranked second in the nation.

The Seminoles found another new role for Jones in 2013, putting the senior on the edge to rush the passers and hunt ball-carriers. He excelled there like he had everywhere else at FSU, leading the team in quarterback hurries. Wherever they put him, he led the team in some statistical category. Jones finished his senior season with 56 total tackles, 8.0 TFLs, 2.0 sacks, and an INT for the nation’s third-ranked defense. Joining him on that Florida State roster were fellow future-Bears Eddie Goldman and Mario Edwards.

Christian Jones entered the NFL Draft ready to follow his dreams of playing professional football.

7 rounds went by. He never heard his name called.

It’s been speculated that a failed drug test was the primary cause of his draft tumble, with Jones even admitting at the time that it “probably had something to do with it.” It was fuel for him, thought, and Jones was ready to prove the doubters wrong.

Phil Emery called, and Jones signed with the Chicago Bears after the 2014 draft.

The Bears were reeling after a season which saw them start 3-0 but fail to outrun the sins of a defense which couldn’t get off the field except to let the other team score. They had finished 2013 with a record of 8-8 and needed defensive talent in all phases, so Christian Jones was a welcome addition. Jones found a role in 2014, his rookie season, as a rotational defensive piece. He started in 5 games for a defense which saw the likes of Lance Briggs and Peanut Tillman on their way out the door, injuries catching up to far too many defensive starters. Jones finished 2014 with 68 total tackles, 2.0 sacks, and 1 fumble recovery.

The Bears cleaned house after Jones’ rookie season, with GM Phil Emery, head coach Marc Trestman, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, and linebackers coach Reggie Herring all being fired or not retained. That’s an entire hierarchy that brought Jones in and gave him a chance, and now he would have to learn an entire new staff.

No sweat. New defensive coordinator Vic Fangio had no problem moving Christian Jones around in 2015 as the latter had been moved around in college, so a new role at starting inside linebacker worked for all parties. He led the team in both total tackles (86) and solo tackles (62) that year. Still, he started the first half of the season but was then benched due to poor play, although a week later was back in the starting lineup due to injuries to other linebackers. Jones topped his second season with a fumble recovery and 4 passed defensed, and began a contract season in his third year.

If the past season had highs and lows, then 2016 was a season worth of lows. First, the Bears brought in a free agent high on everybody’s radar in Danny Trevathan, formerly of the Denver Broncos. Then they drafted Nick Kwiatkowski, a presumed NFL starter out of West Virginia. They even brought in Jerrell Freeman, a former Canadian Football League All Star linebacker, to compete at Jones’ position. So Jones was moved to OLB.

A move back to outside linebacker shouldn’t have proven such a difficult task for such a versatile player such as Jones, but the Bears already had too many of them, even beyond Leonard Floyd and Pernell McPhee. Jones saw a significant dip in playing time, with most of his action coming on special teams. His drop from 62 solo tackles the year prior down to 9 in his contract year spoke volumes. He may not be in Chicago much longer.

That offseason, Jones entertained the idea of playing elsewhere, but the Bears offered him a 1-year low-budget contract and he agreed. He moved back to inside linebacker, no longer competing for a starting role. The Bears were littered with injuries in 2017, not the least of which was their linebacker corps. This gave Jones plenty of playing time once more, and he answered with 84 total tackles, 57 solo, through 11/16 starts. He found time on both special teams and in the starting defensive lineup, a difficult physical task to say the least. He topped off what could have been his last year in Chicago with 2.0 sacks, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.

In 2018, he missed out on a fantastic Bears season when he signed with the Detroit Lions. Needless to say, he was one of the Lions’ best defensive players during his three seasons there. He started 16/16 games in 2018, 13/13 games in 2019 (finished the season on injured reserve), and 13/16 games in 2020. In those three seasons he totaled 177 total tackles, 7.0 TFLs, and 3.0 sacks. Not bad for a Lion.

The Present:

Jones played out his second contract in Detroit and entered free agency this past offseason, finding a familiar home in Lake Forest. He was brought back to provide depth at inside linebacker, but thus far has been restricted to special teams coverage. He’s logged 4 total tackles through 6 games, with few appearances on defense.

The (un)official depth chart on the Bears’ website currently lists Jones as a backup to Roquan Smith, but with Alec Ogletree brought in this year it was clear who would be promoted when starter Danny Trevathan started the year injured. The Bears also have Caleb Johnson in the mix, although he’s hurt as well. The 30-year old Jones is no longer competing for a starting role on the Bears, but as his history has shown, if you can play him in multiple places, he can find a way onto the field in this never-ending war of attrition we call the NFL.

The future:

Jones returned to the Bears on a one-year contract, which he’ll likely continue signing each offseason he wants to play in the league, be it with the Bears or elsewhere. His ability to play multiple defensive positions could make him an asset to any team in free agency which has uncertainty at linebacker health. His ability to play special teams will keep the offers, albeit short-term, coming for him every time he hits free agency.

Don’t be surprised if he opts to retire after this season, though, after playing a season for the team that originally gave an undrafted rookie a chance to play - and then a chance to start. Still yet, the Bears would do well to offer him another one-year deal after this, maybe this time with some incentive for playing time on defense, where the Bears have seen resurgence in pass rush and linebacker play.

When Christian Jones does retire, it may not be as one of the Bears’ legends we hung posters of on our walls, but he’ll be a player who once led the Bears in tackles and came back to the city he first wore the colors of - Navy and Orange.

Week 7 prediction:

1 tackle on special teams