LAKE FOREST — Velus Jones Jr. has had a rough start to his NFL career.
In four games, Jones has two muffed punts, one against the Giants and the other in the 12-7 prime-time loss to the Commanders. Both happened in the fourth quarter.
After the mini-bye, Bears coach Matt Eberflus said the team would look at everything. One thing the coaching staff changed heading into the Monday night matchup with the Patriots was replacing Jones with Dante Pettis at punt returner.
Pettis returned three punts on the night and had a 27-yard return on one, which gave the offense good field position on the New England 39. Justin Fields then led his unit on an 8-play, 39-yard touchdown drive.
However, on the punt return before, Pettis failed to catch the ball but was able to recover it.
Unlike Jones, Pettis didn’t have a costly mistake.
So, is Jones out of consideration for the punt return job moving forward?
“Yeah. Like we said, it’s a work in progress,” Eberflus said. “Obviously, he had the two muffs. We’re looking for consistency in practice. So Dante is doing that. He’s done that for us. He had one the other day, too, so he’s just gotta make sure that he’s squared away. The guys work hard at it. The first thing about those guys is securing the football. We’ll just keep working those guys in there and putting the guy in there that we feel best for that particular game.”
Right now that player is Pettis. On a wet night under the lights in Gillette Stadium, Pettis looked confident fielding punts. The same could not be said for Jones in the Thursday night game against the Commanders at Soldier Field.
Another way of looking at it from Eberflus’ perspective is who will not lose the Bears a game, Pettis or Jones?
Everyone knows the answer to that.
Even though Jones has a reputation for being a return man in college, he only returned 18 punts – with all of them occurring last season for Tennessee. Kick returner is a completely different story. Since 2017, Jones has returned 122 kickoffs and averaged 24.4 yards per return and scored two touchdowns. So far with the Bears, Jones has had five opportunities returning kicks but none were against New England. Maybe that role will increase if he is no longer the punt returner.
Offensively, Jones is still trying to find his footing. He played one more snap against the Patriots (13) than he did against the Commanders. So far in the four games he has been active, Jones has caught two passes and one was the 1-yard touchdown against the Vikings.
For Eberflus, it’s pretty simple how the 25-year-old can get more looks on that side of the ball.
“Just consistency, consistency of alignment, assignment, key technique,” Eberflus said. ‘Him executing his position.”
There is a lot more to be desired from the No. 71 overall pick. The best way for Jones to gain the trust of his coaches is to execute and to do so consistently in practice. Maybe then he can start being a part of the reason the Bears win games and not the other way around.
Get Chicago's Best Sports Content In Your Inbox!
Become a smarter Chicago sports fan with the latest game recaps, analysis and exclusive content from CHGO’s writers and podcasters!
Just drop your email below!