Christian Jones and Senorise Perry beat the odds to make the Bears' roster as undrafted rookies.
For the success stories there are each year that fall through the cracks of the draft, the true challenge is finding a way to make a mark after making the squad. Stall out while developing and fortunes can change overnight.
Some of the greatest underdog stories in the league involve undrafted free agents. How else would you learn about Kurt Warner stocking shelves at Hy-Vee in Cedar Falls, Iowa? Tony Romo, Wes Welker, James Harrison, Hall of Famer John Randle and former Bears defensive end Adewale Ogunleye all went undrafted. Many more took their own rare routes to long playing careers.
Jones is expected to have multiple special teams roles Sunday against the Bills and if Perry is active, he will too. Where they go from here remains to be seen. Jones is working with the second team behind Shea McClellin at strong-side linebacker. Perry is in a crowd of three backs behind Pro Bowl starter Matt Forte. Perry said when he arrived he knew he had to make himself indispensable on special teams, something he played as a four-phase contributor at Louisville even as a starter for the Cardinals.
Recent undrafted rookies to make the Bears roster at the start of the season haven't had staying power. Ten were on the club's Week 1 roster over the previous three seasons and none remain. They combined for three starts -- tight end Kyle Adams (two) and wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher (one). Michael Ford, C.J. Wilson and Zach Minter were fresh faces a year ago, and have moved on.
"Romeo Crennel used to call it compete to play, compete to stay," defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. "There is never a time when you can relax."
In the previous 10 seasons, 13 undrafted rookies made the Bears 53-man roster to begin the season. They combined for 151 games and 20 starts. Safety Brandon McGowan (2005) made the greatest impact. He appeared in 25 games with 13 starts before spending one season with the Patriots.
Jones likely would have been drafted if he had not submitted a diluted urine sample at the scouting combine, something most clubs evaluate as a failed test. So that makes him a little different than your average undrafted guy who claws his way onto a roster. Still, the bottom line is the Bears signed Jones for $7,000 and that alone makes him expendable.
"Throughout this whole year I need to keep improving and getting better," Jones said. "That is the only thing I can control, get better every day at practice. If I do that, I can develop into a starter sooner or later but right now my goal is to get better as a linebacker and produce on special teams."
Special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis identified Jones as a quality special teams player in the pre-draft process. Unlike a lot of every-down players in college, Jones had experience on special teams at Florida State. He kept a hand in it all four seasons and was on the kickoff and punt teams as a senior last year.
Jones' speed at 6 foot 3, 240 pounds, and his change of direction and lateral movement, caught the attention of the coaching staff throughout the spring. What has stood out since the pads went on during training camp is his toughness and physical play.
"Out of the gate, he has the great physique and athletic ability," middle linebacker D.J. Williams said. "Now it is just about getting the mental aspect of football, which he is picking up right on time."
Florida State moved Jones around a little between linebacker and defensive end and he hasn't played on the strong side since his freshman year. So there is some learning to do but he's comfortable with the mental grind that can be more taxing than the physical work.
"I have to get better," he said.
If not, he could join a list of short-term recent Bears who never shed the undrafted tag, players like Alain Kashama and Jeremy Jones.
"You always are going to be known as that undrafted guy, especially the first two, three years in the league," Williams said. "A first- or second-round pick will get a guy two or three years to develop before they boot him out. Undrafted guy? If an O-lineman gets hurt the first place they go is to the depth chart at linebacker. Anybody gets hurt the first place they go is the last person on the depth chart at linebacker. I think he is going to end up being a pretty good NFL 'backer.' "
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