How Bears rookie Jones is preparing to face Bosa in NFL debut

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LAKE FOREST – A year ago, Braxton Jones was preparing to face the toughest battle of his collegiate season as the Southern Utah Thunderbirds headed south to face the Arizona State Sun Devils.

Jones' primary assignment that day was keeping Travez Moore, Arizona State's quick pass-rushing stud, away from quarterback Justin Miller.

A few months later, Jones went up against Jermaine Johnson in the Senior Bowl. The powerful Florida State edge rusher gave Jones a dose of what it will feel like going against an NFL edge rusher on Sundays.

A little over 365 days since facing Moore and eight months since the measuring stick versus Johnson, Jones is preparing for a much bigger test.

The Bears' fifth-round rookie has "blown away" general manager Ryan Poles with his quick ascension from developmental tackle to starting left tackle. His first assignment Sunday as the man entrusted to protect quarterback Justin Fields' blindside? Nick Bosa.

"The biggest thing for him is that he can do it all," Jones said Wednesday of Bosa. "He's bursty. I noticed that when he takes steps, they are very long, and you don't know where he's going to react and go. He can go from being totally outside to being inside in a dime. That's the things I've noticed. He's just an overall player. He tries to be around the ball, and I think that's the biggest thing is just trying to have him between you and the ball carrier.

"He just does everything real well and technical."

Bosa has 24.5 career sacks in 35 career games with the San Francisco 49ers. Due to a torn ACL in the 2020 season, the Ohio State product registered all 24.5 sacks in 33 games across two seasons.

He's a complete game-wrecker, and a guy the Bears must keep at bay to have a chance to spring the Week 1 upset on Sunday at Soldier Field.

So, how does a fifth-round rookie from Southern Utah prepare to make his NFL debut against one of the league's most-feared pass-rushers? Details.

"At the beginning of the week, I try to focus on the defense as a whole," Jones said when asked how he's studying to face Bosa. "Him as a player, they all kind of mirror each other. They play hard. They play grindy football. I kind of look at the whole, and then right after that, I'll get into a little bit of personnel. While I'm looking at pictures of plays, I'm looking at certain plays if he's making a move or stuff like that.

"But I'm not diving too hard into them. Then as the week goes and I've really got the scheme down in my film preparation, that's when I'll really dive into maybe little tells I can get -- when he's in this [stance] with this leg back or that leg back, certain things like that. That's the biggest thing later in the week is to really crystalize that thought. But in the meat of the week, I'm really focused on scheme so that I can execute."

Jones understands the gravity of the moment that will come Sunday. A day he reaches a milestone moment in his life will coincide with the most difficult challenge of his football career. Most rookies, especially those drafted on Day 3 from non-Power Five schools, would feel the need to alter their approach to face such a monumental task.

But Jones understands that he's going to lose reps Sunday against Bosa. That won't faze him. He's been battling star edge rusher Robert Quinn in practice for the last month. There have been many losses.

He just has to keep chopping.

"One hundred percent," Jones said about trying to stay confident even when he loses reps. "I think that's a big thing I've worked on since the spring just going up against Robert Quinn. I have not won every rep. I have lost quite a few reps. So just being able to go to the next play, and I've had times where I had a bad play, and then I had a little tweak on the next play that I could have been better on. But I think that's the thing is that after a bad play, just refreshing it, going straight to the new play. One play at a time.

"That's the biggest thing for me. Even at practice. Even going up against a scout guy. It doesn't even matter, but it's just one play at a time for me. Looking at the play, diagnosing it, and doing everything I can on that one play. That play is over. OK, onto the next play. Let's go."

The man Jones has to protect fully understands the rookie won't have a clean sheet Sunday. Few do against Bosa. But it's Fields' job to keep his tackle in the fight when things go wrong during his NFL baptism.

"I mean, just be real with him," Fields said Wednesday when asked how he'll help Jones on Sunday. "I hope none of you all expect him to win every rep vs. Nick Bosa in a game, so it's like, I mean he knows not going to win every rep. at the end of the day you just gotta move on and focus on the next play. We're gonna try to help him out as much as possible, but yeah, just being real knowing that he's not going to win every play. That's everyone in the league. Everyone gets got on one play, but you've just got to come back the next play and execute. "

Bosa gets the headlines, but the 49ers have a wave of edge rushers to throw at Jones and a Bears offensive line that is still gelling.

Jones knows that Sunday's task isn't just about stymying Bosa. It's about keeping the strength of the 49ers' defense from wrecking the Bears' offense.

"The mindset is the same," Jones said when asked how he'll mentally approach Bosa. "I think all these players in the NFL are here for a reason, you know. Obviously, when you're going against a pass rusher like that you might be a little more alarmed, but I think even the rushers that don't have the biggest names will get you because you aren't preparing the same way. You have to prepare the same way for everybody.

"It's my first NFL game. I have to prepare the same way for anybody. It's just a better testament and it will just show how good my preparation."

That Jones is in this position on Sept. 7 speaks to his talent, work ethic, and mindset.

The rookie tackle has been open about the areas of improvement he has worked on throughout the summer to put him in this position.

It's a surprising place for a fifth-round pick out of Southern Utah to find himself. But the progress Jones has made since arriving in early May has impressed everyone around Halas Hall.
It has been a simple process for Jones, built on trying to win each and every day. He knows there's a lot more he needs to do, but the mindset has served him well over the past five months.

"I think my process just kind of needs to keep on going like that," Jones said. "As it's gone, I think I have gotten more detailed in the way I do things. I'm not there yet by any means or anything like that.

"It's about sightline progression. I've got to get better every day. If somebody, a bystander was watching me everyday and all I'd want them to say is that I'm just constantly going like this and getting better each day. "

The Bears have seen that daily sightline progression from Jones since he entered Halas Hall. Now, they'll get to see that growth put to the test immediately when he begins his NFL journey against Bosa.

Fields and the Bears don't need him to win them all, just enough to make sure Bosa isn't kicking off his season with a party in the backfield on Soldier Field's newly laid Bermuda grass.

No pressure.

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