Bears Coach Matt Eberflus Puts Playmaker on Notice

Matt Eberflus

Getty Head coach Matt Eberflus of the Chicago Bears says the team will be re-evaluating the punt returner position.

Rookie wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. may not be fielding punts for the Chicago Bears much longer.

With just over eight minutes to go in Chicago’s Week 6 loss to the Washington Commanders, Jones muffed a punt on Chicago’s 6-yard line and the Commanders recovered. The Bears were ahead 7-6 at the time, and it took Washington running back Brian Robinson just one carry to give his team a 12-7 lead it would not relinquish.

It was the second muffed punt for the rookie in three games, and both turnovers came at inopportune times for the Bears. When making his NFL debut against the New York Giants in Week 4, Jones fumbled a punt with two minutes left in the fourth quarter when the Bears were trailing 20-12. The Giants recovered, taking away any last hopes Chicago had of mounting a comeback.

When Bears head coach Matt Eberflus spoke to the media after the team’s loss to Washington, it was clear Jones may not stay in the role of punt returner for long.

Matt Eberflus: No. 1 Job of Returner Is to Catch the Ball

Not only did Jones turn the ball over on a pivotal return against the Commanders, he seemed to have difficulty catching the ball at all, which resulted in Chicago losing more favorable field position on multiple occasions.

When he was asked about Jones’ fumble in his postgame press conference, Eberflus did not mince words.

“Yeah, we are going to have to look at that,” Eberflus said after the game. “Number one job of kick returner or punt returner is to any catch the ball, so we are going to have to look at that.”

It was a windy evening at Soldier Field, and Eberflus was asked if he thought the elements may have affected Jones on the play. “The wind wasn’t that bad out there, I don’t think,” the Bears coach replied.

The Bears have 11 days until their next game, a Week 7 Monday Night Football matchup against the New England Patriots, and the first-year head coach said he and his staff would be re-evaluating everyone, including themselves. “We’re going to reassess everything,” Eberflus said. “Everything from scheme to players to everything.”

Velus Jones Has Been a Solid Playmaker on Offense in Limited Opportunities

Jones took ownership of his error and didn’t blame the wind or anything else.

“I’m a man — I own up to my mistakes,” Jones said after the loss to Washington. “That was a devastating blow or we wouldn’t have been in that situation if that punt wasn’t muffed. But I’ll just play my role, whatever that is, and just keep being positive and keep a positive mindset and do whatever I can for the football team.”

When asked if he thinks he’ll continue returning punts in the future, the 25-year-old rookie replied: “I’m not sure. That will be taken up over the break, but whatever my role is I’ll play it to the best of my ability.”

In the loss to the Commanders, Jones was effective in limited opportunities on offense. He had one rush for 8 yards and one catch for 10 yards, and the week before against the Minnesota Vikings, he scored his first NFL touchdown on a nifty 9-yard reception. It’s likely he’ll continue to have chances to prove himself as a gadget player on offense, but he’ll have to take care of the ball.

Jones did have success returning punts in college at Tennessee. His 15.1 yards per return in 2021 was tops in the SEC and second in the FBS — but that success hasn’t shown up in any of his three regular season appearances.

Perhaps the Bears could try him at kickoff returner, where he had far more success in college. When Jones left Tennessee, he finished as the FBS’ active career leader in kickoff return yards (2,9730). He averaged 24.4 yards per kick return and scored two touchdowns, so it’s another option for the third-round rookie if he’ll no longer be the team’s punt returner.

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