Can Christian Jones Develop into a Star in the Chicago Bears' New 3-4 Defense?

Matt EurichAnalyst IMarch 25, 2015

Nov 27, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Chicago Bears inside linebacker Christian Jones (59) against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

After going undrafted in 2014, linebacker Christian Jones has a chance to develop into a star in the Chicago Bears' new 3-4 defense in 2015.

Once projected to go somewhere in the middle rounds of the 2014 draft, Jones went undrafted after Jay Glazer of FoxSports.com reported that Jones was one of a handful of players who failed a drug test at the scouting combine.

The Bears quickly signed him after the draft concluded, and Jones used his draft snub as motivation.

"It's a lot of motivation," said Jones last offseason, according to Larry Mayer of ChicagoBears.com. "It's going to help fuel me, [but] I believe that things happen for a reason. I really feel like I belong here and I'm just making the best out of this opportunity."

Jones moved around during training camp and took snaps at middle linebacker, weak-side linebacker and strong-side linebacker. Former head coach Marc Trestman was impressed by what he saw from Jones in camp.

“He’s showing he deserves the opportunity to work and practice, and it’s fun to see because he’s coming from a long way to put himself in this position,” Trestman said last summer, per Michael C. Wright of ESPN Chicago. “The athleticism is there. The explosiveness is there. The burst is there. The physicality is there."

He impressed the team enough in training camp and earned a spot on the 53-man roster.

After spending the first few weeks of the season as just a special teams player, he got his first career start versus the Atlanta Falcons in Week 6 at strong-side linebacker. He finished the game with four tackles.

After making another start in Week 8 against the New England Patriots, Jones was in and out of the lineup before starting the final three games of the year. He finished the season with 69 tackles and two sacks.

Former defensive coordinator Mel Tucker complimented Jones on his play late last season.

“I think he’s a lot more confident in what we need him to do from an assignment standpoint,” Tucker said in December, according to Mayer. “And that just comes with reps. He’s a football guy. He loves to play the game. It means a lot to him."

The more Jones played, the better he looked. He struggled early in the season with the pace of the game, but he looked more comfortable and relaxed at the end of the season.

He was viewed as an outside linebacker in Chicago's 4-3 defense last season, but he will likely bounce around in Vic Fangio's defense in 2015. Fangio likes to create mismatches with his players, and Jones has the skill set to be successful in a couple of different roles.

So how can Fangio develop Jones into a star in Chicago's new 3-4 defense?

 

Allow Him to Attack the Quarterback from the Outside

While at Florida State, Jones spent all of 2011 as the team's starter at strong-side linebacker before he made the move to weak-side linebacker in 2012. He played inside linebacker for the first half of the 2013 season before finishing out the year as a hybrid defensive end/3-4 outside linebacker.

He finished his senior season with 56 total tackles, eight tackles for loss, two sacks and one interception.

One way Fangio can utilize Jones in 2015 is by using him at outside linebacker like he did with Ahmad Brooks in San Francisco.

Brooks was a supplemental draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2006 and struggled with injuries before he was released and claimed off waivers by the San Francisco 49ers in August of 2008. In four seasons playing under Fangio from 2011 to 2014, Brooks registered 28 sacks in 61 games.

Just like Jones, Brooks entered the league without a true position. While at Virginia, Brooks played defensive end, inside linebacker, outside linebacker and was even a kick returner at one point. 

While Fangio is known for his 3-4 defense, he likes to utilize various looks throughout the game, especially in obvious passing situations.

Instead of always using a traditional 3-4 look in San Francisco with a nose tackle lined up over the center and two defensive ends lined up opposite of the tackles, Fangio would often create confusion by lining up his players at different spots along the defensive line.

He showed off his creativity in Week 10 of the 2013 season versus the Carolina Panthers.

Instead of a traditional 3-4 look, he had one of his defensive ends lined up in the A-gap between the center and the guard, another defensive end lined up in the B-gap between the left guard and left tackle, one outside linebacker was down in a four-point stance just to the outside shoulder of the left tackle and Brooks stood at his traditional outside linebacker spot on the strong side. 

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

In addition to sending pressure with the front four, Fangio also sent linebacker NaVorro Bowman on a blitz on Brooks' side. By sending Bowman at the left tackle, Fangio helped create a mismatch on the outside for Brooks against tight end Greg Olsen.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

Brooks used his athleticism and strength to get past Olsen and eventually took down quarterback Cam Newton for the sack.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

Jones has experience playing in a similar alignment from his days at Florida State. Back in 2013 against Clemson, he lined up at outside linebacker just to the outside of the right tackle.

Credit: Draft Breakdown

He got off the ball quickly, drove past the right tackle and running back and was able to take down quarterback Tajh Boyd for the sack.

Credit: Draft Breakdown

Credit: Draft Breakdown

Jones will face stiff competition this offseason from guys like Pernell McPhee and Lamarr Houston for the opportunity to rush the quarterback from the outside linebacker position on a regular basis, but he has an opportunity to develop into a pass-rushing specialist from the outside if Fangio wants to play him in a role similar to the one Brooks thrived in during his time Fangio in San Francisco.

In addition to using him on the outside, the Bears can also use him on the inside.

 

Utilize His Pass-Coverage Skills at Inside Linebacker

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 28: Christian Jones #59 of the Chicago Bears tackles Joe Banyard #23 of the Minnesota Vikings during the second quarter of the game on December 28, 2014 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Get
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Another way Fangio can help develop Jones into a star is by pairing him with Mason Foster at inside linebacker.

Foster signed a one-year deal with the Bears on Tuesday after spending the last four seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to Chicago's official Twitter account.

Foster will likely take over the strong-side linebacker position on the inside, while CBS Chicago's Dan Durkin thinks Jones could play the weak-side linebacker spot, also known as the "Jack" linebacker:

"Typically the Jack backer is lined up to the open or weak side of the offensive formation and assumes more coverage responsibilities," Durkin wrote in January.

While Jones has the ability to rush the passer from the outside, he proved last season he can play well in coverage.

In Week 15 versus New Orleans last December, Jones lined up in coverage against Saints tight end Benjamin Watson.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

Jones stayed with Watson as he came across the middle of the field and was able to take him down after a minimal gain.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

That is not the type of play that will show up on highlight reels, but it displays his awareness, speed and ability to keep a receiver from picking up yards after the catch. He has the speed and athleticism to match up with speedy running backs, but he also has the size (6'3", 240 lbs) and strength to keep bigger tight ends from gaining extra yards.

Another way Fangio can utilize Jones is by having him rush the quarterback from the inside. The Jack linebacker typically has more freedom to freelance as a pass-rusher, meaning Jones could pick and choose where he wants to attack if he is given the green light to go after the quarterback. He could line up on the inside and attack the A-gaps, or he could stand near the line of scrimmage like an outside linebacker and attack from the edge.

Jones may not have one specific role in Chicago's defense next season, but he has a chance to develop into a star because he can be a jack-of-all-trades who can play both inside and outside and can get after the quarterback in a variety of ways.

 

All screenshots were made using videos from NFL Game Rewind and Draft BreakdownStatistical information courtesy of Sports-Reference.com and NFL.com.

Matt Eurich is a Chicago Bears Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.

Follow @MattEurich