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Bears WR Velus Jones Jr.: 'I've just gotta make a smarter play' after muffed punt in preseason

A year ago, the Chicago Bears hoped third-round pick Velus Jones Jr. would make noise in a weak receiving corps. That didn't happen. This offseason's upgrades leave the second-year wideout fighting for playing time and a role on special teams in 2023.

Things didn't start well in the Bear's first preseason game Saturday against the Tennessee Titans. Jones made a crucial blunder, allowing a second-quarter punt to bounce. He then attempted to pick it up while being hit by a defender, which led to a muff and a turnover.

"It's all about awareness, being smart," Jones told the Chicago Sun-Times on Monday of the muff. "All week, all camp, I've been doing a good job catching them, feeling them out, even when we practice in the stadium. I've just gotta make a smarter play, even though I've got that competitive edge in me and stuff like that. Really proving it to myself and not everybody else."

Fumbling was an issue for Jones as a rookie. He botched his first preseason touch a year ago and fumbled three times in the regular season. Jones returned just five punts last season while muffing two -- both in the fourth quarter of losses.

He provided next to nothing on offense as a rookie, catching nine passes for 103 yards and a touchdown and taking seven rushes for 107 yards and another score.

The Bears drafted the 26-year-old in the third round to add speed to the offense. With a 4.31 40-yard dash, Jones owns speed but has yet to prove the velocity can turn into production.

Jones remains confident he can contribute to a rebuilt receiving corps that includes No. 1 D.J. Moore this season.

"Honestly, if you wanna be real," Jones said, "I respect every guy, from DJ to Chase [Claypool], [Darnell Mooney], [Equanimeous St. Brown], Dante [Pettis] and Tyler [Scott], the rookie, and stuff like that. I know my specialty, and I'm pretty sure the coaches know that I'm real special when the ball gets in my hands."

In Saturday's preseason outing, Jones played 34 snaps on offense (61%) and earned just one catch on one target for six yards.

Despite looking like a player battling for a roster spot, Jones believes the staff knows "the type of player they have in me … They know what I'm capable of."

"I showed glimpses last year and stuff, not getting too much playing time," Jones said. "Getting in enough and getting my feet wet just a little bit. I know what I'm capable of, and I'm definitely a unique player on this team."

Entering Year 2, Jones might bring unique speed, but the Bears need to see it turn into production. And he must completely negate special teams turnovers to have any role.

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