Despite his own uncertainty about how his rehabbed shoulder is coming along and the appearance that the Bears want to take it slow with him, rookie cornerback Jaylon Johnson seems to be in contention for a starting job as the team prepares to dive into game week.
Johnson, a second-round pick from Utah, has impressed coach Matt Nagy enough for Nagy to declare him unquestionably NFL-ready.
“You can see his confidence that he has,” Nagy said. “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.
“He’s got a ways to go. He hasn’t played an NFL game. We’ll see. But in practice so far, I like where he’s at.”
As the Bears try to lock down their secondary, cornerback Kyle Fuller and safety Eddie Jackson are the pillars.
At corner, they rely on Buster Skrine to cover slot receivers, but have been using him on the outside as well. Johnson has mainly been battling Kevin Toliver and an impressive charge by fifth-rounder Kindle Vildor. Artie Burns would have been in the mix, too, but he tore his ACL the second day of practice.
The play that earned Johnson the stamp from Nagy was an interception off Nick Foles last week. He played it perfectly, fooling Foles with veteran-like savvy before darting in for the pick.
“That play he made was all instincts,” Nagy said. “As a matter of fact, Foles asked after the play, ‘How did you know that that play was coming?’ He said it was just instincts.
“Nick was surprised because he thought maybe his defensive coaches were scouting the play, telling him to fall off and make that pick. It was all instincts.”
Johnson had seven interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) and 21 pass break-ups in 37 games at Utah and performed well enough to be the seventh cornerback selected this year.
He underwent two surgeries on his left shoulder in college and another on his right to repair a torn labrum in March. Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said two weeks ago he was being careful to limit Johnson’s participation, so it’s possible he got fewer snaps in training camp for that reason rather than because he was falling behind in the competition.
Johnson said Aug. 20 that he felt good “considering where I’m at in my timeline,” which is not terminology that healthy players would use. Nonetheless, he didn’t think his injury would get in the way of him pushing for a starting job.
“I felt really good [about] what I have been able to do, just going out there and being able to compete,” he said. “The speed hasn’t been too shocking for me. It’s been really easy to adjust to.”