One day after signing a one-year contract extension through 2023, receiver Equanimeous St. Brown expressed excitement about returning to the Bears next season.
"I think we're building on something here and I feel like the coaching staff and the organization likes me," St. Brown said. "I like it here, I'm happy here, so I want to stay here."
St. Brown originally signed with the Bears in March after spending his first four NFL seasons with the Packers. The 26-year-old has started all 15 games he's played this year, catching 20 passes for 320 yards and one touchdown. He has also excelled as a blocker, helping the Bears lead the NFL in rushing, averaging 181.0 yards per game.
"Our run game has been good," St. Brown said. "Our pass game has struggled a little bit, but I think as the season has gone on it's gotten better. We've got a lot of work to do, but I think we'll be ready for next year."
St. Brown has especially enjoyed working with promising young quarterback Justin Fields.
"It's a complicated offense to pick up as a quarterback," St. Brown said, "a lot of moving parts, and I think he's done a great job as a quarterback coming from three offenses in the last three years to picking it up for the first game with no hiccups, calling plays and being a leader out there."
Stepping up: Rookie Velus Jones Jr. has blossomed as a kickoff returner over the second half of the season. Over the last six games, the third-round pick from Tennessee has averaged 33.2 yards on 12 returns, including returns of 63, 55 and 40 yards.
"He's definitely trending 'arrow up' in a really good direction," said special teams coordinator Richard Hightower, "and his blockers, I can tell you they enjoy blocking for him. It's different when you have a guy back there that you know can go to the house."
Jones has shown resiliency in overcoming adversity earlier in the season, when he was benched after muffing two punts that resulted in turnovers.
"What I learned—and he confirmed what we already knew—was that he was a really strong kid with a really great personality," Hightower said. "The guy doesn't swing high. He doesn't swing low. [He's] very even-keeled.
"I know and learned that he was a fighter and he continues to fight and he has tremendous character. And he's going to work, and his teammates know he's going to work as hard as he can to try to get it right. And even when he fails, he's going to find the silver lining and try to bring something out positive which is what you want all of your guys to be."
A no-brainer: Hightower believes that former Bears star Devin Hester, who was recently named one of 15 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2023, deserves to be enshrined in Canton.
"If you want to talk what the Hall of Fame is supposed to represent, it's supposed to represent being the best players at their positions, the best players to ever play the game," Hightower said. "I don't think that there's a question that Devin Hester is the best player at the return position, in the combo return position, with all the records that he holds, everything he did his rookie year, everything he has done not only at the Bears, even when he went somewhere else."
Hester played eight of his 11 NFL seasons with the Bears. The most prolific return specialist in league history, he holds NFL records with 19 kick-return touchdowns, 14 punt-return TDs and 20 return touchdowns, which includes punts, kickoffs, missed field goals, fumbles and interceptions.
"He revolutionized the game of football and how coaches cover kicks," Hightower said. "I mean, who changed the game in the kick return game in the way he did? It's phenomenal what he was able to do, and it's still mind-boggling to see how good he was when you sit down and you study it. I just think [his induction] is a no-brainer and I hope it happens."
Senior writer Larry Mayer ranks his top 10 most memorable plays of Hester's Bears career.
Injury update: In addition to Fields, who has been ruled out of Sunday's game against the Vikings with a strained hip, other Bears who did not practice Thursday were defensive tackle Angelo Blackson (illness), linebacker Sterling Weatherford (illness), cornerback Jaylon Jones (concussion) and long-snapper Patrick Scales (neck). Cornerback Kyler Gordon (groin) was limited.
The Bears spent Thursday afternoon on the practice fields at Halas Hall getting ready for Sunday's season finale against the Minnesota Vikings.