When Bears rookie tackle Braxton Jones initially faced Robert Quinn in practice, there was no intimidation factor. Matching up against one of the top defensive ends in the league meant Jones would instantly learn and fast-track his progress as a rookie.
But the first time Quinn pulled one of his best moves on Jones, the fifth-round pick from Southern Utah was a little bit in awe. Quinn, the Bears' record-holder for most sacks in a single season, has also enjoyed going up against Jones, complimenting his athleticism and upside.
Jones has consistently worked with the No. 1 offense at left tackle during training camp. The competitive battles between Jones and Quinn have helped the rookie settle into his role.
"I think the biggest thing is taking the reps each day, even against some of the best players like Robert Quinn," Jones said. "Just getting better every day and looking at those reps and taking as many reps as I can, that has kind of gotten me to the feeling of like, 'OK, let's go, we gotta do this.' So taking those reps against big-time players has helped me a little bit to get me ready for running with the ones."
One of the bigger adjustments for Jones has been the pace of the pro game. He often has former teammates from Southern Utah asking how different the speed is. Jones said the contrast between the FCS program and the NFL is vast.
"I've got a ways to go, but just understanding how fast it is actually, even with linebackers and all that stuff," Jones said. "I have a better understanding of how fast it is, but I could do a lot better job of implementing that into my game. And that's another thing too, it's not always going fast, fast, fast. You've got to hold space a little bit more. You can't just go fly out to anything because they're so quick, they'll come in right under you. It's a happy medium."
Playing for a smaller football program, Jones often had uncertainty surrounding his chances of making the league. By his sophomore year, he started seeing his name on certain lists and heard his name in conversations about the NFL.
It wasn't until his junior or senior year that he felt confident about the likelihood of getting drafted or at least signed by a team. Still, none of the speculation, lists or conversations meant anything until Jones landed a spot in the league.
Through all four years of college, Jones was always focused on improving each day and working hard enough to give himself a chance at making it as a professional.
"Coming from Southern Utah, not a lot of people make it out of there," Jones said. "And being in the position I am, I'm beyond grateful. I'm just ecstatic to be here every day and that's why I take that approach when I come in here and talk to you guys, just trying to get better every day. Trying to get more crisp every day and do anything I can to help the team. The biggest thing is just being grateful to be here. Obviously, it's not easy to be here, not everyone is here. But it is amazing."