With the health of Danny Trevathan in question, along with uncertainty regarding Nick Kwiatkoski’s effectiveness in coverage, the Chicago Bears could lean on fourth-year veteran Christian Jones to fill the void at inside linebacker on passing downs.
One of the longest-tenured, non-drafted player on the Chicago Bears roster is LB Christian Jones.
Widely considered a mid-round talent heading into the 2014 NFL Draft, Jones fell out of the draft altogether after failing a drug test at the scouting combine. Four years later, Jones has found a home in Chicago, where he wears many hats.
First, he’s a core contributor on special teams. In 2016, Jones played 75.5% of the special teams snaps (323 total), which was third most on the team, behind only Sherrick McManis and Chris Prosinski, per Football Outsiders. Based on Bears coaches’ review, Jones finished second to McManis in special teams tackles (11).
Second, Jones brings positional flexibility and experience on defense. He has started 20 games the past three seasons at inside linebacker. He’s also been used in a part-time role as an outside linebacker, where he could fill in if injuries dictated.
Finally, Jones only 26 and has improved as a defender his three years in the league. While he has struggled between the tackles at times, he’s arguably the best coverage linebacker on the current roster. That’s important, due in large part to the uncertainty surrounding Danny Trevathan.
Trevathan suffered a torn patella tendon late last season and did not participate with the team during OTAs or minicamp. For an injury that could take up to a year to heal, it’s doubtful Trevathan will be ready to go at the start of training camp and there is concern his recovery could bleed well into the regular season.
If Trevathan does miss time, most assume Nick Kwiatkoski, last year’s fourth-round pick, will assuming starting duties alongside Jerrell Freeman. That assumption is partially correct.
If Trevathan sits during the regular season, expect the Bears to rotate Jones along with Kwiatkoski, who struggled in coverage as a rookie. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has deployed a rotating LB corps during most of his time in Chicago, so don’t expect that to change.
In Trevathan’s absence this off-season, Jones has seen just as many first-team reps as Kwiatkoski, particularly on passing downs. Jones moves very well and has 6-3, so he’s difficult to pass over, which gives him extra value when dropping deep down the middle. Kwiatkoski, while proficient in the box, did not show the movement ability or instincts to succeed in coverage last season. If he has not improved in those areas, expect Fangio to once again split the reps between his two young ILBs.
“I’ve seen a lot of growth and change and development in [Jones],” head coach John Fox said late last season. “He’s not a rookie but I’m just looking at guys that kind of grow and change and you watch them get better. He’s one.”
Considering his value on defense and special teams, along with the uncertainty surrounding Trevathan, there’s an outside chance Jones could finish second on the team in ILB reps this season.
And if the 26-year-old takes a substantial step forward in his fourth season, which isn’t at all out of the realm of possibility, it would create some breathing room for the front office moving forward.
Freeman recently turned 31 and there’s no telling if Trevathan will be the same player he once was following surgery. The long-term prognosis for both is questionable at best. If Jones proves reliable on a three-down basis on defense, then parting ways with Trevathan or Freeman, or both, won’t leave a huge gap in the depth chart.
The development of Jones, as well as the 24-year-old Kwiatkoski, will be worth monitoring during the preseason, as both could play significant roles on defense this season and beyond.