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Throw Rookies in Fire Says Jaylon Johnson

Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson wants to see what the rookie defensive backs can do and suggests the best way is throw them right into the fire.

Jaylon Johnson missed the entire voluntary minicamp earlier but it wasn't the sign of a veteran player now convinced he doesn't need offseason work.

In fact, the third-year Bears cornerback doesn't even think he's proven much to date. It's an attitude that will serve him well as the Bears try to build around a new defensive system.

"I mean, that's my mindset now moving forward—it's a complete reset," Johnson said at Tuesday's second day of organized team activities. "Everything I've done in the past with the other coaches, with the other staff, I mean, it really doesn't mean anything too much.

"I mean, the film is not going to lie to you. But at the end of the day, they want me to show them what I can do in person moving forward."

Johnson made his first interception last season and the only one by a Bears cornerback last season, but spent much of the year covering the opponents' best receiver.

At offseason work, the Bears have played him at left cornerback instead of right cornerback or on a particular receiver.

The main change, though, is getting used to the cover-2 style zone coach Matt Eberflus and defensive coordinator Allan Williams bring to the team.

"I mean, it's definitely different from what we were used to running here in the past, but I feel like it gives us a lot more opportunities to see the quarterback, to make plays on the ball," Johnson said.

The reason is simple.

"A lot more eyes on the quarterback," Johnson said.

Dropping to a landmark in zone coverage and watching the quarterback's eyes is the basis of the cover-2 style. Perhaps the Bears can generate more than one interception from cornerbacks like they've had each of the last two seasons, and more as a team than the franchise-low total of eight the team made last year.

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"So I mean definitely have got to learn the system, learn the communication, learn the verbiage, and I feel like that’s going to be big, especially for the secondary," Johnson said.

Johnson briefly took issue with a reporter's comment about the team suffering through a bad year in the secondary in 2021.

The Bears were third in passing yards allowed, which sounds good on the surface. But they faced the fewest passing attempts because teams found it easier to run on them. They ranked 23rd against the run. They also ranked last in the NFL in passer rating against at 103.3.

This was brought to Johnson's attention, and he admitted to some of his own mistakes while trying not to throw anyone under the bus.

"So I mean, we were in the system we had last year and we still had some mental errors, so I definitely think we need to do some extra studying, just be on one accord better this year, being able to communicate and play the zones a lot better than we did last year," Johnson said.

It figures to be better with rookie cornerback Kyler Gordon on the right side where Johnson used to play. Gordon made a sharp play for a pass breakup near the sidelines as Justin Fields tried throwing on the run against the zone in Tuesday's work.

"I mean, you see guys being able to bend and contort and have body control like I talked about on the onset," Eberflus said. "Man, you know, that’s been really good. It’s been really good. And he’s got a lot to learn because when you’re playing corner in the NFL, you have a lot of skillsets you have to cover.

"I mean, you have to cover guys from all different types, all different skill levels and that’s a big task and it’s a hard position to play. So he’s got work to do and he’s going to do that.”

Johnson wouldn't mind seeing both Gordon and safety Jalen Brisker do what he had to do and start on opening day.

"(Expletive), I'd throw 'em in the fire if you asking me," Johnson said. "I mean, they're our first two draft picks.

"I feel like we've got to (see) what they can do right now. And then I feel like we can kind of know what the attitude and what the vibe is heading into camp. If I was the coach I wouldn't ease them into it. I would throw them out there."

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