Bears Sign New Returner, Casting Doubt on Velus Jones’ Future

Trent Taylor Bears Signing

Getty The Bears are signing Trent Taylor to their 53-man roster, according to NFL Network.

The Chicago Bears are signing a new punt returner to their 53-man roster, casting doubt on the role that Velus Jones. Jr will play for them in 2023.

According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, the Bears are signing former Cincinnati Bengals slot wide receiver and punt returner Trent Taylor to their active roster after he was released as a vested veteran during the league-wide cutdown day on August 29.

Taylor tied for the second-most punt returns (33) and finished with the fourth-most punt return yards (340) for the Bengals during the 2022 season, making him an ideal solution to Chicago’s biggest problem on special teams. They tried out Jones and veteran Dante Pettis throughout the preseason, but Pettis is out of the picture after landing on injured reserve and Jones struggled with his limited return opportunities.

Now, Richard Hightower will gain the most substantial punt-returning talent he has had since becoming the Bears’ special teams coordinator in February 2022 — and one with which he is already familiar. Hightower was the special teams coordinator for San Francisco in 2017 when Taylor was drafted and remained in that role for the first four seasons of his career, during which time Taylor returned 49 punts for 471 yards.

What the arrival of Taylor means for Jones, though, remains to be seen. It could be the Bears plan to use Jones exclusively as their kickoff returner and gadget option for jet sweeps, but it is not a good look for a receiver who was a third-round pick last year.

The Bears have not officially announced Taylor’s signing, but they will need to make corresponding roster cuts to make any further additions. It is possible, though, that they carried some players on their initial 53-man roster who are going to be placed on injury lists, which would free up a spot for Taylor and other potential additions.

Could Velus Jones Jr. Be on the Bears’ Chopping Block?

The Bears making a move for a new punt returner is hardly surprising after how Jones fumbled away his opportunities — literally — during the preseason. Jones fielded exactly two punts in the team’s August 12 preseason opener against Tennessee and took an ill-advised approach to his second one that resulted in him muffing it, leaving the Titans to recover deep in Bears territory. He did not play again for the rest of the preseason.

That said, Hightower has remained bullish about Jones’ abilities as a kickoff returner, going as far as to declare him “one of the best kickoff returners in the league” based on what he showed during his rookie season when he averaged 27.6 yards per return. If the Bears, as a whole, feel that way about Jones, it seems unlikely they would cut him.

Then again, Tyler Scott showed promise as a kick returner in the Bears’ preseason finale against Buffalo. He returned three kickoffs for a total of 96 yards with a massive 56-yard return being one of the highlights of the day for the team. The fourth-round rookie has also shown more promise than Jones as a receiver, so it is not unreasonable to think they might want to promote the new blood and abandon their project with Jones.

It is also important to remember Taylor is a wide receiver, giving the Bears seven at the position for their 53-man roster. Maybe they are comfortable with having that many, but it would also make sense if they wanted to cut from the group to make room for Taylor — and the only real candidates are Jones and Equanimeous St. Brown.

Chase Claypool, Other Starters Healthy for Week 1

While the Bears could shake things up at the bottom of their receiving depth chart, head coach Matt Eberflus had some good news about starter Chase Claypool after cut day.

Claypool missed a chunk of training camp after he sustained a hamstring injury in early August and did not participate in the preseason, but Eberflus said he and most of their other banged-up starters — including center Cody Whitehair — are healthy with the exception of left guard Teven Jenkins, who is expected to miss the start of the season.

“Everybody looks to be healthy right now,” Eberflus told reporters on Tuesday. “Looks good. The one guy that’s still week-to-week is Teven [Jenkins]. We’ll work through that process as we go. … Everything looks good. We’re getting guys in. They’re ramping up. Guys that are out are starting to do a lot of land-based stuff, getting into speeds and cuts and moving around. We’ll see where it goes, but it looks good right now.”


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