Jaylon Johnson ready to make history with the Chicago Bears on Sunday
Twenty four years ago, Walt Harris took the field for the Chicago Bears during the 1996-97 season opener against the Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football. Not only did Harris turn in a dominating performance (nine tackles and a forced fumble), it was the last time Chicago started a rookie cornerback in a season opener.
That's all about to change on Sunday when Jaylon Johnson is set to make his debut as the starting right cornerback for the Bears on Sunday when they kickoff against the Detroit Lions to begin to the 2020 NFL season.
According to Chicago head coach Matt Nagy, he's a big fan of Johnson's mindset ever since he stepped into the Bears facilities and onto the practice fields.
"The other part I like about him is I'm rousing him all the time in the building," Nagy said. "You can see his confidence that he has. You have to have short-term memory in this league. He's got extreme confidence. And it's not cocky. It's confidence. I like that about him."
Johnson has never been short on confidence, especially when it comes to the his skillset on the football field.
He arrived onto Utah's campus four years ago as one of the highest-rated recruits in program history. He then set himself goals, one was to start as a freshman, another was to become an All-American and finally, graduate from Utah and declare for the NFL draft after three years.
And Johnson accomplished all of them!
That mindset is what's set him apart on the football field. The battles that Johnson has endured with Chicago's No. 1 wide receiver Allen Robinson have only made him better, regardless of whether he's won or not.
"I would just say I came along just in the mental aspect of being able to learn the defense, being able to feel out NFL offenses and going against Nick Foles and Mitch (Trubisky) every day, it just pushes you to be better just to try to figure out what offenses are trying to do to attack me," Johnson said. "But going against Allen Robinson and all the top wide receivers that we have just pushes your game and elevates your game to the next level. So naturally, going against good competition every day elevated my game."
It's not like Johnson will have time to get his feet wet at the professional level either.
With the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down any chance of a preseason or preseason games, the first time Johnson faces professional competition will come on Sunday. And it's going to be an awakening as he'll find himself going up quarterback Matthew Stafford and his two star receivers in Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr.
Golladay and Jones are receivers who can catch the ball even if the route wasn't a win for the receiver. Pro Football Focus ranked Jones third (64.52%) and Golladay fourth (63.41%) in percentage of contested catches made last year. Only Michael Thomas and Chris Godwin ranked higher.
"They are great contested catch guys," Johnson said. "So, I mean, just trying to be able to find a way to get the ball out…whether that’s before the catch point or right at the catch point, just trying to find ways to be able to get the ball out at the end of the day."
Sunday is expected to be the first of many starts for Johnson in the NFL, especially after the Bears drafted him in the second round. He's expected to be a cornerstone of the defense. And when paired with Pro Bowler Kyle Fuller on the other side, the secondary is set.
"I'm more than ready, in my head," Johnson said. "Like I said in another interview, I've been preparing my whole life for this. I'm not lacking any confidence."
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