The Bears offensive line has endured several injuries this season, forcing the unit to utilize eight different starting combinations. While both guard spots, center and right tackle have been occupied by multiple players, rookie Braxton Jones has remained a constant at left tackle, starting all 15 games this season.
A fifth-round pick out of Southern Utah, Jones has held down the left tackle spot since OTAs and rookie minicamp. While Jones admitted back then he was a little surprised to be working with the No. 1 offense so quickly, he immediately embraced the role and prepared for a challenge.
Seven months later, Jones is the only Bears player to play every snap on offense or defense, becoming an integral part of a young team. As he reflects on his growth between OTAs and Week 17 of his rookie season, Jones feels he can be a foundational piece for the offense moving forward but knows improvement is necessary.
"I want to be that guy," Jones said. "I want to put in the work in the offseason, too, to be that guy and be a cornerstone for this organization. I feel like, obviously, I've got a lot of work to do, but just personally, in the way I try and act around the building, I want to be here as long as possible and I feel like I could be a cornerstone for that left tackle position, so I definitely think I do gotta get, obviously, a lot better in certain situations."
Jones' main focus and measure of success this season is based on how protected and efficient quarterback Justin Fields and the Bears running backs are each game.
While the Bears struggled to establish the run game against the Bills last Saturday, the unit still has the NFL's top rushing attack, recording 206 more yards on the ground than the Ravens, who hold the No. 2 spot.
Fields also remains the top rushing quarterback in the league, eclipsing 1,000 yards on the ground two weeks ago against Philadelphia. When it comes to protecting Fields, the offensive line hasn't been as consistent, as the QB has been sacked 48 times.
"I really take it personal in keeping Justin clean," Jones said. "I think that's the biggest thing for me; if he's clean and the runner is clean and we're making good strides as an offense. I'm a team player. I'm not here to get a badge for being just a guy that's just doing his job. I want to succeed as a team and stuff like that, so that's the biggest thing for me."
The rookie believes he's made strides each game this season, but things like technique, pad level and overall consistency are areas he wants to clean up still. For offensive linemen, Jones sees consistency as "how you stick around."
While Jones called his first season in the NFL a "wild journey so far," the amount of experience he's obtained is invaluable for his future development and keeps him motivated to continue growing.
"I'm just so grateful to be here in the position I am, and the coaches have done an unbelievable job of just putting me in a great position to succeed," Jones said. "I think I haven't given them as much props. Not all of these rookie tackles have gotten here and just got put on one-on-one islands, and I think the coaches have done a good job of putting me in a position to succeed. So I just want to give them a chance in the offseason to see that I am growing and can be that cornerstone. So I think that's the biggest thing is they've given me an opportunity, and I've got to seize that opportunity and keep on growing and getting better."