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Bears’ D-linemen zero in on RB Maurice Jones-Drew

Maurice Jones-Drew Rey Maualuga

Maurice Jones-Drew, Rey Maualuga

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Updated: November 5, 2012 11:49AM

Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew was warned.

He knew questions about Bears quarterback Jay Cutler — be it his criticism of Cutler’s toughness on Twitter two years ago or Cutler’s now-famous sideline snub of offensive coordinator Mike Tice — would come up.

“I’m just happy that he’s smiling,” Jones-Drew said Wednesday during a conference call with Chicago media. “For a while, he wasn’t smiling during the year, and you always want to see players having fun and enjoying the game.”

For the Bears, all that should really matter is keeping Jones-Drew from smiling Sunday in Jacksonville.

If there’s one bright spot for the 1-3 Jaguars under new coach Mike Mularkey, it’s that Jones-Drew is still producing in tough times.

The Jaguars rank last in the NFL in total offense, but Jones-Drew is ninth in yards from scrimmage with 435 (352 rushing yards), including a 59-yard touchdown run. The Jaguars also rank ninth in yards per rushing attempt. In other words, taking the Jaguars lightly could be costly.

The objective, as outlined by coach Lovie Smith and defensive players, is to limit Jones-Drew and force the Jaguars to lean on rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert and the passing game (a measly 146.3 yards per game). The Bears have done well containing running games, allowing just over 67 yards per game, but Jones-Drew will be the best running back they’ve faced.

The Bears’ success starts with the defensive line, which has been dominant.

“[Jacksonville is] going to be a pretty good challenge for us defensive linemen,” defensive tackle Stephen Paea said.

“They’re physical up front,” defensive end Corey Wootton said. “The biggest thing we have to do is come off the ball and play our gaps.

“[Jones-Drew is] a great back, just with what he’s been able to do. So far, what we’ve seen on film, you see plays where he’s cutting and moving. He’s an incredible back. We definitely have to prepare for him and everything that he can bring to the table.”

Jones-Drew said holding out for a new deal and missing the preseason didn’t affect his performance. If anything, he said he feels “a little bit fresher not taking those hits.”

“I feel I’ve hit my stride,” he said. “This is the fastest start I’ve had running the ball, so that’s a big deal.”

Like Wootton said, the Bears don’t see any deficiencies in Jones-Drew’s game on film.

“It’s going to be a task to tackle him,” defensive tackle Henry Melton said.

But Jones-Drew knows it’ll be tough to break through the Bears’ defense. He made sure to commend Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman.

“[They have] guys that have been in this game a long time and still are making plays,” he said.

“It’s funny. With everybody else, the older they get, sometimes they lose some things. It seems like with this Bears defense, though, the older they get, the better they are.

‘‘It’s going to be a tough task for us.”

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