No player on the Chicago Bears has as much pressure on them in the 2021 season as second year cornerback Jaylon Johnson does. The Bears parted ways with a former All Pro in Kyle Fuller, they released veteran nickelback Buster Skrine, they added oft-injured Desmond Trufant, and the overall depth at corner is about as unproven as it gets.
Chicago is counting on Johnson to be their number one corner, but he’s coming off another shoulder injury, and while he had a fantastic start to his rookie season, his play did taper off as 2020 wore on. The Bears may not be expecting Johnson to entirely fill Fuller’s shoes, but he’s expecting it of himself.
“It’s something I’ve been working for my whole life,” Johnson said last month from Halas Hall when asked about being the Bears top cornerback this season.
He understands the responsibility that comes with being Chicago's number one corner, not only from a leadership standpoint, but also the expectations of improved performance.
“We all miss [Fuller],” Johnson said via the Chicago Sun Times. “We know what his presence did to our secondary. So it’s just about moving forward and learning from what he did and just being able to implement that with the newer guys and the guys coming up. Just being able to take over that role and try to give the secondary what he gave us in terms of that leadership. It’s just about picking up where he left off.”
And where Fuller left off was as a legit playmaker that was as durable as they come. In six seasons his 19 interceptions is 19th in team history, and his 82 passes defended is 4th all-time. Besides the one season his missed with a knee injury (2016), Fuller hasn’t missed a game with 94 starts in 96 games.
Johnson had three shoulder surgeries in college at Utah, and he hurt his shoulder late in the 2020 season too. Shoulder ailments have a way of lingering and reoccurring, but luckily there was no structural damage this time around, and Johnson says that he’s “100 percent healthy.”
Last year Johnson led the Bears in passes defended with 15, but he had no interceptions, no forced fumbles, and no fumble recoveries. “The pass breakups were nice and stuff like that — but that’s not what the game’s about,” he said via the Sun Times. “The game’s about the ball and taking the ball away.”
A change in defensive philosophy could be what Johnson needs to unlock his takeaway potential, but more about that in a couple days.
If Johnson can live up to the promise he showed last year he could solidify at least one side of the field for the Bears.