What’s wrong with this picture? Or maybe, what’s right?
Over the past two years, no Bear made more tackles than Christian Jones’ 196 – a total accomplished in spite of being shunted around in a death-spiraling 4-3 scheme under the Marc Trestman staff in 2014 and then moved inside as part of the John Fox/Vic Fangio 3-4 last season.
An undrafted free agent picked up by the Phil Emery regime out of Florida State, Jones also was third in special-teams tackles (11) in 2014 and contributed four last season along with four pass breakups and four quarterback pressures.
Then this offseason Jones could only watch as the Bears made replacing him (and Shea McClellin) a priority, signing inside linebackers Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan. And suddenly Jones finds himself in a battle for a roster spot. He even saw his number (59) taken to one of the new guys (Trevathan).
It is not often that teams put replacing one of their leading tacklers high on their offseason to-do lists. But there it was.
“You can’t really get surprised,” said Jones, still among the most upbeat players to be found anywhere on the roster. “It’s the NFL, and they brought in two good players, and that’s going to help the team, the defense. I was all in for that.
“So it’s taking my role and doing the best I can with that.”
The trouble is, that “role” is fluid.
Coaches came to Jones early in the offseason and said they were moving him back to the outside. Fine. He was comfortable there before. Except that since the start of training camp, Jones has been something of a “Where’s Waldo?” character – inside, outside, try finding him.
If there’s an irony, it lies in the fact that not finding Jones a clear role sets him up as a piece of roster versatility that teams crave.
“We went and signed two inside linebackers in free agency and moved him to outside, and now we’ve kind of moved him back inside, so he’s kind of a hybrid,” said coach John Fox. “And sometimes you have to be that.
“There’s the old adage, ‘The more you can do… ,’ and there are a lot of those hybrid guys in different spots. It gives him an advantage, too, as far as offensive recognition.”
Fox and the Bears staff have placed a premium on attitude as well, and Jones has continued to be a factor on special teams, something not every three-year veteran and former starter embraces.
Jones thinks clearly: “You want to have a job,” he said, laughing. “That’s the main thing.”
[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]
The bumping around between positions has not set Jones’ development back. Indeed, “I think it’s been somewhat smooth, and playing both, I’m getting a sense of the defense,” Jones said. “That helps a lot. It’s a good thing to know both spots because you never know with injuries, so in the long run it helps me and helps the team.”
When Jones was tasked with calling defensive signals in McClellin’s absence last season, it did not go overly well. Jones was benched by Fangio in Week 15 for inconsistency.
Indications are that something has changed. “I think there is a maturity difference, in my opinion,” Fox said.
If all continues to go well, Miguel Gonzalez could pitch in a rehab start as soon as Friday.
On the 15-day disabled list with a strained right groin, the White Sox starter said he felt good during a second bullpen session on Wednesday.
Gonzalez, who is 2-6 with a 4.05 ERA in 19 games (18 starts), threw 30 pitches. He previously threw a bullpen session on Friday and felt some discomfort the following day. But Gonzalez said he has made progress since he received treatment on Saturday.
“A lot better,” Gonzalez said. “I didn’t feel anything while I was throwing my bullpen, which is great. I’m happy with the results today and come back tomorrow and we’ll see.”
Gonzalez left an Aug. 11 start at Kansas City in the bottom of the second inning. Though he wasn’t yet sure if he’d head out on a rehab assignment, Gonzalez said he was on the third day of a five-day schedule in which he was supposed to start. But it’s also possible the White Sox could have Gonzalez first throw a simulated game.
“We're going to have him go back out there again and do a little bit more, that looks more like starting in a game where he's going to throw for a little while, sit down, get back up,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “Simulate some innings and hopefully after he does that a couple time he can go out for a rehab assignment.”
Tim Beckman is coaching Power Five conference football again, something that came as a big surprise to many a year after Beckman was fired for mistreating players at Illinois.
But his new "boss" — Beckman is a volunteer assistant at North Carolina — doesn't seem to have any problem with Beckman being a part of his staff.
North Carolina head Larry Fedora — who worked alongside Beckman when the two were coordinators at Oklahoma State in 2007 — was asked about Beckman on Wednesday, and had some comments that seemed to show he doesn't care about the reasoning behind Beckman's firing.
"I don't believe everything I read, all right," Fedora told reporters, his quotes tweeted by Andrew Carter of the News & Observer. "I know Tim. I know his side of the story, also. So I was comfortable with it. If I wouldn't have been, obviously I wouldn't have brought him. I wouldn't have allowed him to be in our program. But I was very comfortable with it. I don't have any issues with it at all."
When asked about criticism and questions surrounding Beckman's presence, Fedora responded, "I know it's going to happen, and then a couple of days from now it won't be news. I mean, I promise you, I didn't see anywhere where the NCAA said that he should be banished from the game of football. You know? I mean, the guy didn't win enough games. That's all it was."
Well, coach, that's not all it was.
Beckman was fired a week before the start of last season when an investigation found evidence supporting social-media accusations months earlier that Beckman mistreated players by forcing them to play injured, demeaning players with injuries and threatening to take away players' scholarships.
While it's true Beckman was on the hot seat for winning just four Big Ten games in three seasons, he would've been the coach to start last season had it not been for the results of that investigation.
Now, in his role at North Carolina, it was reported Wednesday, Beckman is relegated to scouting and film study. But he is allowed to travel with the team, meaning he could show up in Champaign on Sept. 10, when North Carolina plays Illinois at Memorial Stadium.