From the day he joined the Chicago Bears a little more than two years ago, Jaylon Johnson has insisted on the biggest bet for a top-tier cornerback.
“Have a short memory,” he said again on Tuesday.
So perhaps it was fitting that when Johnson was asked by the Bears defense about making remarkable personal development during a failure-filled 2021 season, he couldn’t recall the obvious struggles.
“What made our defense not so good?” Johnson asked out of genuine curiosity. “It’s easy to say we weren’t good enough. But I want to know the numbers.”
Well, for starters, Bears opponents posted a 103.3 passer rating, the highest allowed by any NFL defense.
Only the Washington football team and the Indianapolis Colts allowed more than 31 touchdown passes dropped by the Bears.
Despite only allowing 191.6 passing yards per game, the Bears finished in the bottom five in interceptions (eights) and were allowed per pass attempts (7.6).
So how was that experience for Johnson, emerging as a credible cover corner on a defense that had its issues?
“I mean, I felt like I was struggling too,” he said. “At the end of the day, we are all in this together. We just have to be on page one. I think a lot of things (last season) were more mental than physical.
Now it’s looking to the future and in the latest phase of the Bears’ massive reboot, which continues with the first week of organized team activities in Lake Forest. Johnson stepped into the practice arena on Tuesday along with several new faces. They have a new head coach in Matt Eberfluss, a new defensive coordinator at Alan Williams, and a new defensive back coach in James Rowe.
The Bears also used last month’s draft to upgrade to their secondary, with second-round picks adding cornerback Kyler Gordon and safety Jacan Brisker. Both are about to start the rookie project week 1.
Johnson is attentive enough to realize that Halas is starting again at Hall – even for established veterans.
“It’s a complete reset,” he said. “Whatever I’ve done in the past with other coaches, with other staff, it doesn’t really make sense.
“I mean, the movie isn’t going to lie to you. But at the end of the day, they want me to show them what I can do personally.”
So what can Johnson teach the new coaching staff during next month’s OTAs and minicamps?
“It just comes down to work ethic,” he said. “It is just earning respect as a hard worker and doing extra. I mean, right now it’s not so much about production. It’s really about knowing your assignments and working hard.”
Johnson was impressive through large parts of 2021, raising his hand to shadow an opponent’s top receiver when necessary and showing that he is capable of rising into an NFL standout. His interception total (one) through two seasons leaves something to be desired, but he earned respect in the locker room last year with his competitive edge, to-the-point voice and tone-setting approach to practices and games. earned.
On several occasions, former Bears safety Tashawn Gipson has backed Johnson as a rising star with the potential to become a top-five cornerback in the league. But at least for now, Aberfluss is challenging Johnson to prove himself every day.
After saying on Tuesday that Gordon is “brightening it” in practice this week, Aberfluss called Johnson “a work in progress”, emphasizing that the third-year cornerback has a lot more work to do. Is.
When pressed for specialties, Aberfluss stressed the need to see Johnson play with his own eyes more often.
“I want to see him in person,” Eberfluss said. “I must have time at work. So I really don’t know how to answer that question right now. … I have to see that guy’s cover. I’ll have to see how he takes his angle, that ball.” How Ko plays. I’ve got to see all those things before we start diving into the details of him and coaching him.”
Johnson noted huge differences in the system that Aberfluss and Williams had set up during their first two seasons, from the system they played under coordinators Chuck Pagano and Sean Desai. For starters, in the Bears’ new plan, cornerbacks will look more at quarterbacks when asked to master the nuances of zone coverage.
But having felt success in Year 2 with his comfort level and confidence, Johnson is sure that he can cross the necessary bridges quickly.
“I feel as confident as ever,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anything I can’t do.”
He also acknowledged the excitement he felt three weeks ago when the Bears used their top two draft picks to add to the secondary.
“(I) was excited to have some high-level people coming and being able to contribute,” Johnson said. “They’re ballhawks. They’re ball hungry. That’s definitely a good thing, knowing they’re aggressive.”
To that last point, Johnson expressed a better attitude toward getting Gordon and Brisker on the field and closing in with starters as soon as possible.
“If you ask me I’ll throw them into the fire,” he said. “I mean, those are our first two draft picks. I guess we’ll have to see what they can do right now. And then we can know what attitude and vibe is going to camp.
“If I was the coach, I would not have relaxed them. I’ll throw them there.”
As Byers continues his transition, he needs Johnson to play a leading role and propel himself forward. That process should accelerate in May and June so that Johnson can earn the full confidence of the coaching staff ahead of training camp.