The mark of an elite NFL quarterback is the ability to make the players around him better.
Jones, chosen in the fifth round of the 2022 draft quickly climbed the ladder last season to emerge as the Bears’ starting left tackle, and is tasked with protecting Fields‘ blindside and keeping him upright.
During a wide-ranging conversation with Heavy, Jones pointed out that there were even moments last year when Fields helped him.
“There were a couple of plays that I remember,” Jones told Heavy. “Against Miami, Justin had a [61-yard] rushing touchdown. But, I was getting edged a little bit, and him getting out of the pocket and running for the touchdown, it made it look like I had actually pancaked the guy. But, actually, I was getting edged and Justin saved me and ran for the touchdown.”
During a breakout 2022 campaign, Fields made quite the habit of breaking off big runs.
Likewise, Jones made a significant impact as a rookie, finishing as Pro Football Focus’ No. 19 ranked offensive tackle and 11th best run-blocking tackle in the league, with a 79.4 mark.
Fields finished seventh in the league in rushing last season, accounting for 1,143 yards and 8 touchdowns on the ground, to go along with his career-high 2,242 passing yards with 17 touchdowns to only 11 interceptions, in his second NFL season.
It isn’t always easy, by any stretch of the imagination, for an offensive line to block for a quarterback like Fields who can take off and run in a split second when things break down or fail to develop downfield in the passing game. But, Fields’ mobility is an asset in more ways than one.
“As a young tackle, I had my rough times,” Jones admits. “But, more than not, Justin got me out of some of those bad plays. When he does move a lot, it can go either way. Sometimes, you might run into one of those sacks where the defensive linemen can see better than I can where he’s going. And that’s tough.
“But, more times than not, Justin is helping the offensive line get out of those type of situations where maybe protection breaks down. He’s been great. It’s so fun watching him just start rolling down the field. There are multiple times when I’m trying to chase him, I can’t catch him at all, but I’m trying and cheering him on doing his thing.”
As the former Ohio State star enters his third season behind center, and second in offensive coordinator Luke Getsy’s scheme, Jones sees another level for the 24-year-old passer.
“I think the biggest thing is just bringing D.J. [Moore], everyone’s felt a little more confident,” Jones said. “It’s opened the field up for other players. So, everyone is playing a little more confident, and Justin’s leadership is just continually getting better.
“Obviously, we still have training camp and preseason together. And, there’s a lot of time before our first game. But, there’s a lot of time to grow, and I think we’re going to take a lot of steps forward in that time”
More Than Moore Inspiring Confidence for Chicago Bears
Poles and the Bears entered the offseason with a bounty of assets, and the moves orchestrated by the 37-year-old general manager have set the stage for a renaissance on the banks of Lake Michigan.
Beyond plucking Moore from the Panthers, and signing linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards, Poles and the Bears buttressed the offensive line in front of Fields through free agency and the draft.
Clearly, Poles set out to both unlock the quarterback’s to-date unrealized potential, and aimed to down on the 91 sacks he’s absorbed through his first two seasons. Chicago paid stalwart free agent guard Nate Davis $19.25 million guaranteed over the next three years and chose Darnell Wright No. 10 overall out of Tennessee.
“We just have to keep using the time between now and game one against the Packers to just keep getting closer,” Jones said, of the task of developing cohesion along a rebuilt line. “We need every rep we can get, because all training camp is about gaining more confidence, getting better, getting used to things, and getting rolling into the season.”
Wright’s addition forms a bookend to Jones along the offensive line, and the incoming rookie arrives in the Windy City after going the entire season in Knoxville without allowing a sack and garnering an 80.2 pass-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus.
As he enters his second season, it has been Jones who has helped get his fellow tackle up to speed in the NFL.
“Him being the No. 10 overall pick, he’s been great,” Jones said of Wright. “The biggest thing for me is just trying to tell him to relax a little bit and when things get tough, or overwhelming in practice, sometimes, just relax. It’s going to come.
“But, it goes both ways, too. Darnell was a great pass-blocker at Tennessee, and they would really sling the ball around. So, I’ve definitely seen him, and taken some of his techniques away and tried to put it in my game a little bit, too. Obviously, he’s a premier 10th overall pick, so he’s got some tricks and tools that I can take from his game.”
As Fields enters his third season, surrounded by new weapons like Moore, Chase Claypool, Darnell Mooney, and tight end Cole Kmet, the stage is set for the Bears to rise to new heights.
With a fortified offensive line and a growing sense of cohesion, Chicago is poised for a new era to dawn under the leadership of Fields, and the masterful moves orchestrated by Poles.
As Jones and his fellow linemen continue to develop and gain confidence, the Bears’ potential knows no bounds, especially in the suddenly wide-open NFC North.