The Chicago Bears need their defensive line to dictate the line of scrimmage in order for their scheme to work as intended. For most of the first half of 2023, that wasn’t happening. Outside of nose tackle Andrew Billings, nobody was doing their job. The biggest disappointment had to be Justin Jones. Head coach Matt Eberflus entrusted him with the three-technique defensive tackle spots, by far the most important in the entire system. Interior pressure is vital in a Tampa-2, and Jones wasn’t getting it done. He had four total pressures in the first four games.
However, things appear to have shifted. Since the Week 5 win over Washington, Jones has 17 pressures and two sacks. His presence is far more noticeable, especially after the Bears added Montez Sweat via trade. Even NFL scouts are stunned at his sudden turnaround. Bob McGinn of Go Long TD got such feedback for his latest column. It appears Jones has stepped up his game, looking nothing like the player who didn’t do much last year or through the first month this season.
What changed? They believe it’s the steady improvement of two Bears rookies.
Jones, a starter for the Chargers from 2019-’21, leads the team in pressures (11) and tackles for loss (seven). “He disappeared last year and early this year,” said one scout. “The last three games he’s really come on. The reason is the two rookies (Dexter, Pickens) are pushing the shit out of him. He’s a 3-technique, and (Matt Eberflus) likes bigger people. It’s, like, ‘Where did this guy come from?’”
The Bears took Dexter at No. 53 and Pickens at No. 64. “They have talent,” said one scout. “They both can play the 1 and the 3, but when they’re together Dexter is the 3 and Pickens is the 1. Dexter is the better athlete. Played high (from a stature standpoint) in college (Florida). Strong as hell.”
Justin Jones knew his job was on the line.
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He’s a free agent in 2024. There is a reason the Bears drafted Dexter and Pickens. They weren’t getting the production they wanted from the defensive tackle spots. Drafting them was a clear message to all the veterans on the roster. Either they stepped up their game or got replaced in the near future. As the two rookies began flashing more and more each week, it must’ve sunk in for Jones that his chances of surviving beyond this season were shrinking fast. So he stepped up his game.
If people were looking for a reason why it’s always smart by organizations to draft young players to sit behind veterans, this is a great example. There is no reason to let anybody on a roster be comfortable. Comfort breeds complacency. Complacency leads to losing. Justin Jones is merely the latest example of this approach. He understood exactly what was going on when the Bears drafted Dexter and Pickens. They were insurance. They would be his replacements if he couldn’t get it going this year. It appears the message finally got through.