LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- As he watched closely at the Senior Bowl this past February, Bears general manager Ryan Poles was struck by Southern Utah offensive tackle Braxton Jones. He kept standing his ground against prospects from premier college programs.
Poles and the Bears’ scouts sensed that Jones was out to prove he belonged, and his play at the Senior Bowl backed that up. The Bears then selected Jones with the 168th overall pick in the fifth round of the NFL Draft in late April. Privately, they had graded him as a prospect worthy of being selected on the second day rather than the third and final day of the draft.
That's also why the Bears aren’t surprised to see Jones securing his grasp on the team’s starting job at left tackle.
“I would say the biggest thing is just being grateful to be here,” Jones said. “Obviously, it’s not easy to be here. Not everyone is here. But it is amazing, honestly.”
During OTAs in early June, the Bears moved 2021 second-round pick Teven Jenkins to the second-team offensive line. At that point, Jones entered the fold as the left tackle and started to prove himself. Second-year pro Larry Borom, who started eight games as a rookie last season, is now competing at right tackle. Veteran Riley Reiff, who was signed just before the Bears reported to training camp, was also moved over to right tackle to compete with Borom.
It seems the Bears’ left tackle position is Jones’ to lose.
“My hat is off to him,” Borom said. “He's a great player. He's going to be good for us."
After holding his own against the top prospects at the Senior Bowl, Jones is now embracing matchups in practice against the likes of star pass rusher Robert Quinn, who set the Bears' single-season sack record in 2021.
The 23-year-old Jones is working on blending his natural ability with an understanding of what accomplished pass rushers or deceptive defensive coordinators might present. For Quinn, one aspect of Jones’ game really stands out.
“Athleticism,” Quinn said. “That’s just one by itself. You can’t really coach that. So to be able to have that as an ability as young rookie, it only can go up from here.
“You see the confidence in himself.”
On Saturday, Jones will take to Soldier Field with his eyes wide open for the Bears’ preseason opener against the Chiefs. He plans to take a minute to soak in the scene and appreciate his journey to this point.
Then Jones is expected to step in at left tackle with the Bears’ first-team offense. He isn't taking the opportunity for granted.
“I’m beyond grateful,” Jones said.
Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.