The Bears have a big offseason ahead of them, and wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. has been making the most of it, both on and off the practice field.
Jones is currently in Los Angeles with several other NFL rookies for the Panini Rookie Closeout with Panini America. Rookie trading cards autographed by members of the 2022 rookie class will be placed into the rest of the Panini Football trading card products for the 2022-23 season.
When he saw himself on a trading card for the first time, Jones saw it as a culmination of years of hard work.
“Man, it was a crazy feeling,” Jones told Windy City Gridiron on Thursday. “Just knowing the countless hours of work you put in to get where you are [to] help your family, God first overall. It feels good to know that you did something right. Once you work for it, it paid off, but it definitely doesn’t stop there. We got to keep going.”
Jones was a third-round pick out of Tennessee in the 2022 NFL Draft, as the Bears took him with the No. 71 overall selection. He finished his rookie year with 7 catches for 107 yards and a touchdown, as well as having 9 carries in the run game for 103 yards and a touchdown. He served as Chicago’s primary kick returner, placing third in the league with an average of 27.6 yards per return.
“I would say just coming in this league and looking back, it’s mental,” Jones said of improving and building upon Year 1. “You got to have the physicality and the speed...and the rest of is just mental. [I] make sure I’m keeping my mental space clear. [I’m going to] really work my tail off this offseason. [I] rest my body for now, but soon, there’ll be time to get back and work. Knowing that I left no doubt this offseason, I’m working on the things that need to be worked on and be ready to rock and roll when camp comes back around.”
He clarified he’ll be working on creating separation at the top of his routes and his coordination tracking the ball. He also mentioned that he purchased a jug machine that he intends to get plenty of use out of once he gets back home.
As one of the wide receivers on Chicago’s offense this year, Jones worked often with quarterback Justin Fields, not only in games but on a daily basis in practice. When asked if anything different happened in the second half of the year, when Fields put together stronger production, Jones says that it was merely a culmination of a season’s worth of efforts.
“Through it all, he had the same mindset, from the beginning to the end of the season,” Jones said about Fields’ mentality. “Losing a lot of close games towards the end of season, we know we’re not going to make the playoffs. He was turnt up even more, like, “we still got something to prove”. Nothing changed about it. It’s easy to know that you’re not going to make the playoffs or when it’s out of reach, just to give up and lay down, I feel like this is something he definitely didn’t do and the team didn’t do, and everybody’s playing off his energy.”
Jones emphasized the importance of playing like it’s your last down, because you never know when that might actually be. He said that the injury to Bills defensive back Damar Hamlin opened up his eyes even more to this credo, thanking God that Hamlin is making a recovery.
The Bears have a big offseason ahead of them. They have the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, and they currently have the most cap space available in the league. Time will tell what their roster will look like by the time the offseason finishes up, but Jones believes things are trending in the right direction.
“Everybody ended up on a positive note,” Jones explained. “We gave it all, but we do know this is the NFL, as well. Every year, there will be changes made. I feel like the beautiful thing about this is the friendships, the brotherhood, the relationships you make with each other. That was a fun locker room to be in. Everybody was always positive. Everybody’s going to go put in the work in the offseason. You just never know the changes that are going to be made, but everything ended off on a good note.”