BOURBONNAIS — Bears receivers expect to hear something. It’s a fact of life when they’re facing a defensive back and playing for Curtis Johnson.
‘‘Don’t be afraid of success!’’ or ‘‘Hey, bro, he’s too thin to win!’’
The latter is a critique of the defender, wide receiver Josh Bellamy explained. It’s meant to instill confidence in his receivers (and irritate opponents).
‘‘He’s crazy, man, but we love him,’’ Bellamy said, laughing. ‘‘You are an image of your coach, and your coach is an image of you.
‘‘When we go out there, he might say, ‘Say, bro, you’re going to get me fired.’ ’’
When training camp opened, Alshon Jeffery said he thought the Bears could have the NFL’s best group of receivers. The front office believes that, too, making Johnson, the team’s receivers coach, an important offseason addition.
‘‘It feels like every guy in our [receivers] room can play on an NFL team and on Sundays,’’ nine-year veteran Eddie Royal said. ‘‘You normally don’t see that all the time in camp.’’
But receiver also is a position that could go from boom to bust quickly because of inexperience and injuries. Quarterback Jay Cutler’s season depends on those receivers.
So enter Johnson, whom general manager Ryan Pace reveres from their six seasons together with the Saints. Johnson is part-teacher and part-drill sergeant.
‘‘It’s not all vinegar,’’ coach John Fox said. ‘‘He’s got some sugar. He builds good relationships with them. They understand that he’s there to make them better.’’
Work with White
Kevin White said he never has played for a coach like Johnson. Johnson’s bombast, sense of humor and years of mentoring top-notch receivers make him unique.
‘‘It’s different because he’s a different guy,’’ White said. ‘‘It takes a little bit getting used to. But he’s trying to make us better. You take it in and execute how he wants it.’’
With White, Johnson is more of a teacher.
White benefitted from being around the Bears last season after shin surgery. But Johnson won’t overestimate any perceived gains. Nothing equates to being on the field.
‘‘Kevin had a year off,’’ Johnson said.
Johnson often has film of the NFL’s best receivers — including Antonio Brown, Julio Jones and players he coached in the past — for his players to examine.
While at Miami for 10 seasons, Johnson developed Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne and Santana Moss into NFL prospects. Former Saints receiver Marques Colston, a seventh-round pick from Hofstra in 2006, had five 1,000-yard seasons in six years under Johnson.
Johnson said White reminds him of Andre Johnson. But White has to work on everything because everything is different from West Virginia’s offense, which limited his routes.
White needs to expand his route-running while maintaining the necessary precision. He’s connecting with Cutler and learning what defenses want to do to stop him.
‘‘He’s getting used to everything,’’ Johnson said. ‘‘The knowledge of the game and all those things, he needs to improve on that. But he’s improving.’’
Johnson is visibly hard on White. He’s the loudest person on the field, and White is a frequent target.
‘‘It’s making sure we’re running back to the ball,’’ White said. ‘‘It’s making sure we’re staying consistent. It’s making sure we’re at the [right] depth [on routes]. It’s making sure that the [defensive back] feels our speed on all our routes.’’
Next step for Jeffery
Johnson identifies with Fox’s belief that coaches can instill toughness in players.
‘‘That’s what you’ve got to do,’’ Johnson said. ‘‘You’ve got to have toughness to play, especially to compete in this game.’’
With Jeffery, Johnson is more of a motivator.
Johnson’s drill-sergeant ways are considered a good fit for Jeffery, a soft-spoken type in a prove-it year with the Bears because of his inability to stay healthy. His strained hamstring is the most recent addition to his list of ailments.
Former receivers coach Mike Groh developed Jeffery’s talents. But Johnson is here to see if he belongs among the NFL’s elite receivers.
The Bears want to see such a development, regardless of how much his price tag rises after the season.
‘‘I don’t know if it’s all toughness,’’ Johnson said. ‘‘Sometimes there are legitimate injuries. But when [Jeffery] does play, he’ll be prepared to play, and hopefully he plays more games. But the one thing when he’s out here . . . he’s playing tough.’’
Johnson is harder on Jeffery than on others. It’s a promise.
‘‘The one who thinks he’s the best, you have to be the hardest on,’’ Johnson said. ‘‘You’ve got to be the most demanding on the best player.’’
So it’s no surprise that ‘‘tough’’ was how Jeffery first described Johnson, who was Tulane’s coach the last four years.
‘‘He’s going to stay on top of us for any little thing. Whatever it takes, just keep grinding,’’ Jeffery said. ‘‘He always says, ‘Keep grinding. Stay focused no matter what.’ If you make a great play, it still doesn’t matter to him — [he’s] still coaching.’’
Plenty to offer
It’s not only Johnson’s sayings that resonate with the receivers. He has nicknames for nearly all of them: ‘‘Jay-beezy-weezy’’ for Bellamy; ‘‘Cam-a-whamma’’ for Cam Meredith; ‘‘Bravy-wavy’’ for Daniel Braverman.
Johnson provides every receiver with something different.
Royal, 30, said Johnson’s shouts have had a rejuvenating effect.
‘‘He likes to yell, [and] he yells at everybody,’’ Royal said. ‘‘But he’s never putting anybody down. He’s yelling at you, but he’s yelling positive things.
‘‘He knows how to push us. He knows how to coach each guy. He doesn’t coach everybody the same.’’
Johnson’s goal is clear: He wants them to be the NFL’s best receivers.
‘‘I watch the guys around the NFL,’’ he said. ‘‘I want our guys to be as good or better than all those guys. In order for us to do that, we need to do a lot — a lot — of work.’’