Back in his hometown of Mobile, Ala., last week, Velus Jones Jr. stood on the sideline at Hancock Whitney Stadium during Senior Bowl practice and reminisced.
Before being selected by the Bears in the third round of the 2022 draft out of Tennessee, Jones impressed during Senior Bowl workouts and then led the American team in receiving yards in the all-star game.
"It just reminds me a lot of my journey, seeing those guys out there chasing their dreams and trying to make the NFL possible," Jones told ChicagoBears.com. "It's always fun to be around the game, especially these college kids entering the draft competing, trying to boost their draft stock. It's a beautiful thing."
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A dynamic receiver and return specialist, Jones demonstrated resiliency as a rookie, rebounding from two muffed punts in October to show versatility and big-play ability later in the season.
Benched after muffed punts resulted in turnovers in one-score losses to the Giants and Commanders, Jones sat out two games against the Dolphins and Lions but made the most of his next opportunity, returning a kickoff 55 yards in a Week 11 contest versus the Falcons.
Jones especially excelled in the final three games of the season. He produced a 44-yard reception and 40-yard kickoff return against the Bills; a 63-yard kickoff return versus the Lions; and a 42-yard touchdown run, 28-yard reception and 25-yard punt return against the Vikings.
His performance versus Minnesota marked the first time a Bears player had generated a rush, reception and return all of at least 25 yards in a game since Hall of Famer Walter Payton-coincidentally also in the final regular season game of his rookie year in 1975.
As Jones begins to prepare for his second NFL season, he can't wait to pick up in 2023 where he left off in 2022.
"It really motivates me," he said of his strong finish last season. "I'm looking forward to this year. I know this year's going to be a great year."
Jones is proud of how he battled back from his mistakes as a rookie.
"I learned that half of the game is mental," he said. "It's your mentality, how you approach the day, how you bounce back because there are going to be ups and downs. There are going to be ups and downs, but it's all about staying on a narrow path. That's something I've been working on, especially with my mental health. It's all about adversity and how you respond. I feel like that's a huge part of this game and so far I feel like I did a good job, but I'm looking forward to year 2023."
Jones has already started to prepare for his second season. He purchased a JUGS machine to catch passes and punts and had the Bears ship him a bunch of footballs. There's another JUGS machine he can use at his alma mater, Saraland High School, which he insists is "the best high school in the state of Alabama, if you didn't know."
"The JUGS machine is an investment," Jones said. "I'm going to be on that thing dang near every day. You can work some punt return stuff with it, catch up close and far balls."
Jones will eventually head to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to train and then return to Chicago for the Bears offseason program in April.
Asked what excites him most about the upcoming season, he said: "Being back up there with my teammates, my quarterback, my receiving corps."
"I'm just excited," Jones added. "That was one of the [most fun] teams I've been on. It was great energy. [I'm] ready to be back out there rockin' and rollin' with my brothers."