Considering it’s been 30 years since the Bears started an Opening Day rookie at left tackle, that’s a big deal.
Fifth-round draft pick Braxton Jones is still playing the job with starters a week into training camp, even after the Bears signed longtime left tackle from NFC North Riley Reiff.
Jones should be considered the surprise of training camp, even though he’s been training in the position with starters for half the offseason.
“Yeah, he just, you know, absorbed all the information on the run,” Bears coach Matt Eberflus said. “He did it and he shows that it’s not too big for him.
“When you come in as a rookie sometimes the places are big, and that doesn’t mean he’s been perfect because he’s a rookie and he’s had his moments, but he’s doing a good job. We like where he is, we like where he is progressing and he still has a long way to go, but we like where he is.”
For Jones to replicate a feat last achieved by Troy Auzenne in 1992 in Mike Ditka’s senior year and start Game 1, he will have to improve. He knows it.
“Yeah, I would say a big thing for me is trying to ground myself in this bull rush,” Jones said. “I worked on a few things over and over, especially in the passing game. I have to throw my tight hands over and over and just play fast. That’s the most important thing, and I’m getting better every day. . It’s my goal.
“Obviously it’s not easy, but if you can improve by 1% every day, that’s like the most important thing for me every day. If I see something that I did wrong yesterday and I did it well today, that’s important to me. And I think another thing, too, is really focusing on those tight hands. I have to improve. Once I get the hang of it. that, and no one has seen me do it consistently, but once I’ve done it consistently, I think it’s going to be a big leap.”
Not jumping the gun on an instant count would also help. He’s been as guilty of that as anyone as the Bears try to adapt to an offense with lots of snap counts.
“I would say for me, I kind of try to figure out the cadence as much as possible, and some of them just try to jump and be as quick as possible off the ball, and some of them them are just mishaps that just need to be cleaned up,” he said. “They can’t be a thing anymore, especially for young people.
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“We know the cadence. We have exceeded the cadence, especially for me. All the problems with the cadence that I have is that I try to improve with the cadence and just a little bit better to do my job, try play fast and all at the same time. I’m just saying partly try to figure it out and jump around a bit too.
Jones surprised with these first-team snaps during OTAs and minicamp after Teven Jenkins did it at left tackle. Then the Bears traded for Reiff. Prior to Thursday’s day off, Jones had practiced at left tackle even with Reiff playing. They moved Reiff to right tackle, a position he hasn’t played consistently since 2016 at Detroit.
Jones didn’t know where those games would take him at the end of minicamp, so he just kept training and preparing before camp.
“I was back in Utah training with a trainer that I did a little bit for combine prep and stuff like that,” Jones said. “I was just back in Utah and it was good for me to get away from it all for a bit, just to get away from it all and see the game and the feel of the playbook.”
He felt that being away and looking at the playbook put it all into perspective.
“I would say I took a big step in that direction and it allowed me at the start of camp to play a lot faster and be a lot quicker,” he said. “I would say one of those things was a big step forward. I felt like I was back in better shape. I think I needed to get back in shape a little bit better in terms of is about when those pads were in place today and stuff like that.”
When he returned, he found they had signed Reiff, the former tackle from the Bengals, Vikings and Lions.
“Yeah, that does two things for me,” Jones said. “It’s just another way to compete. I think that’s the most important thing.
“And then learning from a vet. Kind of like how I answered the question (from a reporter), he sees things very differently. He’s got experience. He’s been in the league for a long time So no matter what, honestly, we’re competing for a job and it allows me to get a little more experience asking him the questions and having him say “you did this wrong” or ” you did well. At the end of the day, we are always in competition. Those are two big things and I just thought of it as an opportunity.
It’s an opportunity for a little Bears history and something big at the start of a professional career.
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