Bears help wanted: No experience necessary

Bears rookie Braxton Jones has noticed he’s not being treated like just another fifth-round draft pick since he started taking first-team reps at left tackle during OTA practices.

“They’re harder on me,” Jones said. “Maybe when I was taking Team-3 reps or Team-2 reps, that one o-lineman didn’t need to rely on me as much. But I think they’re 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 I think it’s great for me –them 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.”

Holding Jones to a higher standard is plenty of respect in itself. While Jones still has major hurdles to clear — practices in pads, preseason games and the regular season if it comes to that — the rookie from Southern Utah is in line to battle for the starting job at left tackle.

Whether he makes it or not, he’s going to get the opportunity, which is what Matt Eberflus’ first Bears training camp will be all about. Jones is one of 26 rookies on the Bears 90-man roster — 11 drafted, 15 undrafted. And any of them who shows anything could move up the charts quickly.

This figures to be a wide-open camp and a golden opportunity for rookies. Already, cornerback Kyler Gordon and safety Jaquan Brisker — the Bears’ two second-round draft picks — are slated for starting jobs. And wide receiver Velus Jones –the Bears’ third-round draft pick –will be given every opportunity to prove he isn’t ready.

Unlike previous teams, this version of the Bears doesn’t have a lot of proven veterans to get in the way of a rookie with potential. There’s no Jason Peters. No Tashaun Gipson. No Jimmy Graham.

And Eberflus seems very content with giving any rookies an opportunity to prove themselves.

“You’re going to have to put him in,” Eberflus said. “You’re going to have to learn from your mistakes and learn from practice and get the experience. Now as long as you’re talented enough and you’re a pro-level starter — of course those guys are going to make plays and you can see that pretty quick. I’ve seen that with a lot of guys that we’ve started early in their career.”

A year ago, the Bears were in no-man’s land under general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy –thinking they were contenders with a roster that needed an overhaul. Who knows just how difficult this rebuild season will be, but it will be refreshing on one level — Eberflus seems much more likely to play developing players who give the Bears the best chance to win in 2023 than veteran players who give them the best chance to win in 2022.

We’ll see how it shakes out, but Eberflus seems willing to tolerate a player losing a game today if that experience helps him win more games tomorrow. That’s what the Bears need.

And he already has his eyes on some rookies who will get a good shot in training camp based on their play in the offseason program.

“When I see a guy that has the talent at this time of the year, I want to really get a thorough evaluation of him in training camp,” Eberflus said.

Matchups will be the tell that Eberflus is intrigued by a promising player.

“[If] I have Player A that I think is on the rise, I’ll say, ‘OK, let’s put him against our best guy so I can see it,” Eberflus said. “So he’s playing against a pro player, a really good starter. Now I can see what he can do. And we’ll match those up all the time.

“It’s not just roll the ball out there –ones vs. ones; twos vs. twos. No –lets’ match these players up so we can see them, because a lot of times what happens is if you have a rookie that was playing with the twos … he doesn’t get that exposure. He really needs to get that exposure and see where he’s at, and in the end it’ll [improve] his game and make it better by going against better talent. We’ll do that all the way through [the roster].”

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