The Bears likely will have to keep waiting for the debut of rookie wide receiver Velus Jones. After missing practice all week because of a hamstring injury, he is doubtful for the season opener against the 49ers on Sunday.
Jones has been in and out since the Bears reported for training camp in late July, and that has hindered his ability to secure a role in the offense. He appeared to be solidifying himself as the primary punt returner and an option at kick returner, which would at least get him some opportunities until he found his footing offensively, but those plans are on hold.
Jones was healthy for just one of the Bears’ three preseason games and had one catch for four yards against the Seahawks. He also fumbled the opening kickoff, then took a punt 48 yards to set up a touchdown.
“You’ve gotta increase your value by doing multiple things,” Jones said after that game. “My value is I’m a good returner and a good receiver. In the return game, I’ll keep doing my thing, and I’ll slowly keep working my way into the offense.”
Injury aside, that doesn’t appear to have happened yet. Jones is no higher than fourth on the depth chart at wide receiver.
The Bears likely will start Darnell Mooney, Byron Pringle and Equanimeous St. Brown against the 49ers, with Dante Pettis next in line behind them. Former first-round pick N’Keal Harry was supposed to be part of that group, too, but he is starting the season on injured reserve.
Bears general manager Ryan Poles gambled by waiting until the third round to address a major need at wide receiver, taking Jones out of Tennessee at No. 71 overall and 14th at his position. Other than Mooney, the Bears’ veteran receivers are all on one-year contracts, so the team’s hope is that Jones will make enough progress in his rookie season to show he be more of a focal point offensively in 2023.