Now would be the optimal time for Chicago Bears WR Velus Jones Jr. to return, and the Bears might not have a choice

With WR Byron Pringle on IR, there’s an opportunity for rookie Velus Jones Jr.

Chicago Bears wide receiver Velus Jones Jr., speaks to the media during rookie minicamp, May 6, 2022, at Halas Hall in Lake Forest.

LAKE FOREST – Bears rookie receiver Velus Jones Jr. said he felt “close” to returning to action last week.

The Bears might have no choice but to suit up the third-round draft pick on Sunday against the New York Giants.

The Bears placed veteran receiver Byron Pringle on injured reserve this week. Pringle suffered a calf injury in the first quarter of Sunday’s win over the Houston Texans. Going on IR requires a minimum absence of four weeks.

“Whenever you lose a starter or a player like that, that’s a good blocker and certainly stands for everything we believe in, that certainly hurts,” head coach Matt Eberflus said. “And guys are going to have to step into that role.”

It leaves a hole in the Bears’ lineup, a hole that Jones would fit nicely into if he’s physically able.

Jones has been in and out of practice for the past month because of a nagging hamstring injury. He played in only one preseason game and has yet to appear in a regular-season game. He briefly returned to practice for one day ahead of a Week 2 matchup with the Packers, but then was sidelined again.

Last week, he practiced twice in a limited capacity. Jones practiced Wednesday but was listed as limited on the practice report.

“It’s a great feeling to be out there with your brothers [in practice],” Jones said. “Just to be in the same atmosphere as them, grinding with them, individual and stuff like that. I’m just fortunate. I’m grateful to be here in the first place. To be back out there makes me feel a whole lot better about myself.”

Jones is a speedy weapon who should make a difference on offense and on special teams whenever he does, in fact, return to the field. At Tennessee last season, Jones was the co-SEC special teams player of the year.

The coaching staff envisions using him in multiple different ways within the offense. The Bears elected not to put Jones on IR coming out of training camp, which meant they were optimistic he would miss less than the required four weeks that an IR stint would necessitate.

They don’t want to rush Jones back, but Eberflus is optimistic that “hopefully” this will be the week Jones returns.

“We have limited reps during the course of practice, get some practice side reps and we’ll see where he is and then we’ll work him in,” Eberflus said. “We have a plan. We’ve had a plan for him to come back in there, and then we had to move it back a little bit. It’s been in place for a couple of weeks.”

Pringle doesn’t have the biggest shoes to fill. His season high in reps came in Week 2 against the Packers with 34% of offensive snaps. Pringle has only two catches for 33 yards. He was the team’s biggest offseason addition at receiver, signing a one-year, $4.1 million contract in March. Like Jones, Pringle was in and out during training camp because of injuries.

For any player, especially a speedster such as Jones, a hamstring injury can be tricky.

“I stay patient because I’m a believer that everything happens for a reason,” Jones said. “I’m a believer in Christ, and I know his is perfect timing, and my time will come. So just worry about the day ahead. What can I do to get better? What can I do to get myself back faster?”

Receiver N’Keal Harry also could be a candidate to return from IR next week after suffering an ankle injury in training camp, but he won’t be available this week against the Giants.

Bears add help at WR: The Bears signed receiver Reggie Roberson Jr. to the practice squad Wednesday. Roberson is an undrafted rookie out of SMU. He spent time with the Tennessee Titans during the offseason but was released Sept. 1.

Injury report: Running back David Montgomery remains day-to-day, Eberflus said. Montgomery did not practice Wednesday at Halas Hall. The starting running back injured his right ankle in the first quarter of Sunday’s game and did not return.

Cornerback Jaylon Johnson (quad) also continued to sit out practice Wednesday. Johnson injured his quad in practice last week.

Also sitting out was linebacker Matt Adams (hamstring) and safety Dane Cruikshank (hamstring). Tight end Ryan Griffin (Achilles), linebacker Roquan Smith (quad) and Jones (hamstring) were limited.

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for Shaw Media. He also contributes to high school football coverage at Friday Night Drive. Sean has covered various sports at the amateur, college and professional levels since 2012. He joined Shaw Media in 2016.