By Chris Emma–
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. (CBS) — Last summer, Bears linebacker Christian Jones was the training camp underdog. He was the undrafted rookie with an uphill battle to make the team’s roster.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Weekend Warmup Continues
This time around, he’s a second-year player boasting high aspirations to start at linebacker. Needless to say, Jones has a different comfort level at training camp at Olivet Nazarene.
“You got to keep moving forward,” Jones said Monday.
Further bolstering the case for Jones is his ability to work within new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s 3-4 defense. Jones, who stands at 6-foot-3 and a bulked up 248 pounds, believes he can work the tasks needed in Fangio’s schemes.
“I fit in really well so far,” Jones said. “This new defense kind of goes along with my skill set. I’m just looking forward to it and getting better every day.”
Early in camp, Jones has impressed. The Bears have seen that versatility from the linebacker — a guy who can be strong in coverage or attack near the line of scrimmage.
“He’s a big, strong, fast guy who can cover a lot of ground,” Bears safety Ryan Mundy said of Jones.
There are differences for Jones during this training camp. He adjusted to the speed of the NFL last year, playing in all 16 games — starting five — and recording 69 tackles.
But now Jones must adapt to the complexities of Fangio’s defensive identity.
“I feel it’s really versatile,” Jones said. “I do a lot of dropping in coverage, covering receivers — and when it’s time to get aggressive, I blitz.”
Plenty has changed for Jones in the course of a year. Job security was in question last summer in Bourbonnais. There was often an uneasy feeling in his stomach.
“I had a lot of support coming in,” he said. “Things don’t go your way sometimes.”
Jones is now working on being a fit for the Bears’ new-look defense, and his outlook appears promising.
Fabuluje adapting to NFL game
Rookie offensive tackle Tayo Fabuluje couldn’t help himself. When asked about the interactions with teammates in his first training camp, he opened up with a candid moment.
“For me, it’s surreal,” Fabuluje said. “I used to play with those guys in video games. I still sometimes look over and say, ‘Dang, that’s Jay Cutler, that’s Jimmy Clausen, that’s this person, that person.’ It’s definitely surreal for me.”
Being around established NFL names is good for Fabuluje, a sixth-round pick who has benefited from the guidance. He’s absorbing how a professional football player operates, both in off-field preparation and on-field performance.READ MORE: At Least 10 Shot, 1 Killed In Weekend Violence In Chicago
“It’s good being able to learn from the guys, seeing how the prepare day in and day out, it helps you big time,” Fabuluje said. “We haven’t been here before, we’re rookies. Just to see them, knowing they’ve been successful in the past, it’s been pretty good.”
Fabuluje’s great story –he was out of football and working three jobs for a time — has been widely shared. But now he has to perform and earn a roster spot.
One important focus for Fabuluje is keeping his weight controlled. He entered camp at 350 pounds but currently checks in at 343, crediting much of that to the Bears’ regimented diet plans and nutritionists providing proper guidance.
On the field, Fabuluje has impressed, all while learning the new offensive system of Adam Gase and adapting to his Bears environment. But there have been wake-up calls. Going up against the punishing Lamarr Houston was a moment that stands out in his mind.
“To feel what it’s like to go against who I think is one of the best defensive players in the NFL, it’s cool,” Fabuluje said. “But it lets you know that there are people that are going to challenge you out there — people that are bigger, better. You got to be sound with your technique. That was cool, I still can’t believe it, it’s surreal. A cool moment.”
Fabuluje has the remarkable character and riveting personality that’s gripping in training camp, but the Bears, of course, will only judge him for his abilities at tackle.
If Fabuluje can stick to his diet and hold his own against standouts like Houston, his special story will keep getting more enjoyable.
“Every day, I feel like I’m getting better,” he said. “I feel like I can really be something that can help the Chicago Bears.”
White missing important reps
Training camp time is valuable for anyone. Those reps set the foundation for the season to come.
For a rookie receiver like Kevin White, this time would be especially crucial. Being counted on to be a playmaker for the Bears, White would be best suited on the field, gaining knowledge of Gase’s offense and building a connection with quarterback Jay Cutler.
However, White has yet to practice during camp and is without a timetable for his shin injury that he suffered late during organized team activities in the offseason.
“He’s making headway,” Bears coach John Fox said. “He was on the shelf for six weeks. His conditioning level and soft tissue, just building him back to come out and play football rather than throwing him out there.”
White will line up opposite Alshon Jeffery in the Bears offense when he gets healthy. He was picked at No. 7 overall by general manager Ryan Pace, looking to fill the void of Brandon Marshall, dealt away to the Jets in March.
So is White falling behind without his camp reps, and could that be considered a problem?
“It’s all a problem,” Fox said. “Coaching this stuff is a problem. At the end of the day, I’d prefer for him to be out there, but I’ve seen guys miss time and have the seasons of their life. I’m not going to try to define him — he’ll do that for himself.”
Extra points: Receiver Alshon Jeffery was sidelined as a precaution to protect his injured shoulder … Cornerback Alan Ball was also held out as to be careful with his foot injury … Tight end Martellus Bennett practiced through stomach sickness on Monday … The Bears are off Tuesday before returning to the field Wednesday.MORE NEWS: Bill For Reparations For Black Evanston Residents Soon To Go Up For Vote; Some Say It's Insufficient And Could Make Things Worse
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.