This is CHGO’s Chicago Bears 2022 player preview series. Learn more about each player and what to expect from them this year.
Entering his first season with the Chicago Bears, Justin Jones is looking to prove he can be the difference-making 3-tech the team needs for its defense to flourish.
What is a 3-tech?
In the Bears’ new 4-3 defense, the 3-tech is the defensive linemen that lines up on the outside shoulder of the guard. The player’s primary responsibility is to penetrate and disrupt the backfield.
Jones, who will turn 26 before the start of the regular season, has pressure to perform after being the team’s backup option in free agency after Larry Ogunjobi‘s deal fell through after a failed physical.
The former Charger has steadily improved each year after being drafted in the third round in the 2018 draft. Last season, he set career highs in sacks (3), tackles (37) and QB Hits (5). He also tied his career-best five tackles for loss.
Those three sacks account for two-thirds of his career total.
All of this production came in only 11 games, the fewest of his career in a single season, after missing five games with a calf injury that he sustained Week 1 and missing another game Week 16 while on the COVID list.
Advanced Stat to Know: In 2020, Jones was one of three defensive linemen in the NFL to play over 500 snaps without having a missed tackle. (PFF)
Best Game of 2021
Jones had his best outing Week 13 against the New York Giants, notching one sack and five tackles, one going for a loss.
This was despite playing only 39 snaps — the second-fewest for Jones that season.
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Can Justin Jones be that gamechanger the Chicago Bears need at the position?
The secret sauce that makes Coach Eberflus’ defense work is the 3-tech. It is difficult for this defense to play to its potential without one playing at a high level.
Chicago settled on Jones after not being able to sign Ogunjobi. It’s valid to question if the team views him as being capable of the level of play they were hoping to get out of Ogunjobi.
Last season, Ogunjobi’s average depth per tackle was 1.9 yards. Jones’ tackles came a half yard further downfield on average (2.5). However, Jones did better two seasons ago when his average tackle depth matched Ogunjobi’s from 2021.
This is the upside GM Ryan Poles is banking on. It’s more than just accumulating tackles for Jones, he must be able to make impactful plays near (and behind) the line of scrimmage.
If Jones gives up too much ground and gets pushed backward the rest of the defense will suffer. He must play closer to his 2020 standard in terms of where his tackles are coming from on the field in order to make the impact the Bears need from him.
Coach Eberflus shared praise for Jones during voluntary OTAs in early June.
Obviously I love the athletic ability, I love the man, I love his attitude. He’s working super hard, and again, the evaluation will continue to go all the way through training camp, like we said. When we put the pads on, then we get our true evaluation. But where he is right now, we are extremely excited about that.”Chicago Bears Head Coach Matt Eberflus
Eberflus has a track record of getting non-elite players to perform well. That’s what good coaching does. There is a chance that Jones’ best days are ahead of him.
Jones is going to be heavily utilized throughout the season. Expect to see the defensive lineman on the field a ton. Whether he plays at a high level or an average one, the Bears don’t have many other options at the position to handle the bulk of the snaps.
Even though Jones wasn’t the team’s first choice, there are legitimate reasons to get excited about his potential in this defense.
Who knows? Maybe he will surprise most and become the disruptive 3-tech the team has been searching for all along.
Time will tell.
It’s just unfair to put those lofty expectations on Jones today.
Prediction: 45 Total Tackles, 7 TFL, 4 Sacks, 6 QB Hits.