During the five weeks off between the end of the offseason program and the start of training camp, Braxton Jones worked on honing his mind and body.
The Bears rookie left tackle returned home to Utah, where he was able to take a deep breath, a step back and a 10,000-foot view of the offense.
"It was good for me to get away a little bit, just to get away and see the game and the playbook, just getting install one, two and three down like really solid," said Jones, a fifth-round draft pick from Southern Utah.
"That was really good for me because the way I saw it from actually being outside of the building was a lot different and a lot clearer when I went over it again instead of it being thrown at me."
Jones clearly has benefitted from gaining a firmer grasp of the offense during his time off, revealing that it has allowed him to "play a lot quicker" in training camp. The 6-5, 310-pounder also returned to Chicago in better shape than when he left after working in Utah with Skylar Mayne, an athletic trainer who helped Jones prepare for the NFL Combine.
Jones impressed Bears coaches while working as the starting left tackle in the final six offseason practices. After the summer hiatus, he has carried that momentum into training camp while still taking first-team reps.
"Every day, I continue to learn and compete," Jones said. "That's the biggest thing. Just because I'm running with the ones doesn't mean anything changes. That might change up who's in front of me, but that doesn't matter. For me, it's still the same. I go full speed. I'm trying to work on my tight hands. I'm trying to get better every day.
"It's a bigger role in the sense of the ones. But for me, I'm still focused on the same things. My mindset is still the same, and that's to get better."
Roster moves: In other news Tuesday, receiver Tajae Sharpe and cornerback Michael Joseph were removed from the non-football injury (NFI) list and are now eligible to practice. Safety Dane Cruikshank was also removed from the NFI list earlier Tuesday.
With the Bears beginning to practice in pads Tuesday, Jones indicated that he's working on trying to anchor against bull rushes, improve his hand use and play fast. His main objective is to improve every day.
"That's my goal," Jones said. "This obviously isn't easy, but if you can get one percent better every day, that's the biggest thing for me. If I see something that I did wrong yesterday and I did it right today, that's big for me.
"Another thing, too, is really focusing on those tight hands. I've got to get better at that. Once I get that down, and nobody's seen me do it consistently, but once I get that done consistently, it will be a big jump."
Jones' chances of winning the starting left tackle job as a rookie seemingly took a hit when the Bears signed 11th-year pro Riley Reiff the day before training camp. But Jones is happy to have a veteran he can learn from in Reiff, a full-time starter the past nine seasons at left tackle with the Lions (2013-16) and Vikings (2017-20) and right tackle with the Bengals (2021).
"He's been cool," Jones said. "When I ask him a question, he answers the question and he'll go out of his way to be like, 'you did good on that play,' or 'you need to tighten up your hands on that play,' or 'you need to be quicker on the back side of wide zone.' He's always being encouraging and making sure we're competing by coming together too.
"It's all a brotherhood on the O-line. Obviously, everybody's competing for a job … but we're still all trying to help each other out."
Enjoy Illinois Training Camp was taken to the next level Tuesday as the Bears practiced in pads for the first time this season at Halas Hall.