LAKE FOREST – Rookie fifth-round draft picks don’t often show up and start at left tackle right away. Braxton Jones still is a long way from doing so in Week 1, but the fact that the Bears already have given him some reps with the first-team offense speaks volumes.
It says two things. One is that the Bears think quite highly of Jones, a rookie out of Southern Utah. Two is that the Bears’ offensive line absolutely remains in flux.
Jones played left tackle during Thursday’s final day of veteran minicamp. The Bears gave Larry Borom the first reps at left tackle for half of the offseason program. Then halfway through, the coaching staff tried out Jones at left tackle and shifted Borom to right tackle.
The 23-year-old Jones admitted he was surprised when he first learned of that plan.
“I’ll be honest with you, yeah, I was definitely a little bit surprised,” Jones said. “I mean that surprise went away quick. It was thrown on me, and it’s time to go. It was just something where you have to take a step forward, you have to progress more quickly, and I think that’s good for me.”
The Bears mixed and matched all sorts of combinations on the offensive line this spring. All four rookies – center Doug Kramer, guard Ja’Tyre Carter, guard Zachary Thomas and Jones – took reps with the first-team offense at one point or another. Jones definitely saw more action than any of the rookies, though.
The biggest adjustment has been the timing, Jones said. He had a few false starts during 11-on-11, but that’s to be expected with a rookie who is learning the cadences.
Jones’ other big focus this spring has been to use his hands more effectively. His arms measured in at 35 3/8 inches at the NFL Scouting Combine, and offensive line coach Chris Morgan quickly showed Jones that he wasn’t maximizing that God-given length.
“Just throwing them babies,” Jones said. “Letting them go. They’re long. Just letting ’em go and [Morgan’s] just harping on me, and I love it because it is a big thing. I notice when I punch [an opponent], get them off their spot, it’s huge.”
These practices with the first-team offense were all about getting his feet wet. Head coach Matt Eberflus said the next step with any rookie is to put him up against the team’s best opponents.
“I have Player A that I think is on the rise,” Eberflus said. “I say, ‘OK, let’s put him against our best guy,’ so I can see it. So he’s playing against a pro player, a really good pro starter. Now I can see what he can do. And we’ll match those up all the time.”
The players have yet to put on full pads. It’s hard to truly evaluate the offensive and defensive lines until they do. The Bears will have a much better idea of how good Jones is once he has Robert Quinn lined up across him in a live rep.
No. 41: The Bears honored the late Brian Piccolo on Thursday with every player wearing Piccolo’s No. 41 jersey at practice. Thursday marked the 52nd anniversary of Piccolo’s death.
Piccolo signed with the Bears as a rookie free agent in 1965, the same year the Bears drafted Hall of Fame running back Gale Sayers. The two rookies, one white and one Black, became roommates and close friends. Piccolo supported Sayers through a knee injury, and Sayers supported Piccolo when he was diagnosed with cancer in 1969. Piccolo died in 1970 at age 26 from embryonal cell carcinoma. Their friendship is depicted in the 1971 movie “Brian’s Song.”
“Sometimes it’s hard for people or anybody, you go back so far, and it’s hard sometimes for them to see the impact of Brian Piccolo that he had, late ‘60s there,” Eberflus said. “I just think [it was] honoring his life.”
Attendance: Pro Bowl pass rusher Robert Quinn again skipped practice Thursday. He missed all three days of the mandatory minicamp. His absence was not excused.
“I don’t have emotion with that either way,” Eberflus said. “I’ll be honest with you. When Robert is here, I’ll talk to him. He and I will sit down and visit man to man, and we’ll go from there.”
Rookie cornerback Kyler Gordon was in attendance but did not practice at all this week. Left guard Cody Whitehair returned Thursday after having an excused absence Wednesday. Guard Dakota Dozier remains out after suffering an injury Tuesday.