Bears’ Jaylon Johnson focused on picking up where Kyle Fuller left off

As a rookie, Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson’s job was to learn from Kyle Fuller. In his second year, Johnson has to become him.

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Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson tackles Texans running back Duke Johnson in December.

Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson tackles Texans running back Duke Johnson in December.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

As a rookie, Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson’s job was to learn from Kyle Fuller.

In his second year, Johnson has to become him.

“Kyle was our No. 1,” Johnson told the Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday. “Now that he’s gone, I’ve got the most snaps and the most experience at that position. It kind of turned quickly once he left.”

It did.

When the Bears cut Fuller as a salary-cap casualty in March — the two-time Pro Bowl cornerback quickly signed with Vic Fangio’s Broncos — Johnson became, oddly, a veteran presence.

Despite missing the last three regular-season games and the Bears’ playoff loss with an injured right shoulder, Johnson totaled 867 snaps in 2020. Every other cornerback on the Bears’ current roster combined to play 667 last year.Only three corners logged more than five downs in 2020: Desmond Trufant, who had 324 with the Lions; Duke Shelley, who had 208 snaps in replacing slot corner Buster Skrine; and Kindle Vildor, who had 135 in replacing Johnson.

“We all miss [Fuller],” Johnson said. “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.”

Coach Matt Nagy said new defensive coordinator Sean Desai will “probably mess around” with moving Johnson across the field to Fuller’s old spot on the left side.

“I do think it’s a benefit to be able to have guys that play both sides,” Nagy said. “So for us to be able to have that versatility with these players and Jaylon being able to do that and do different things, I think Sean will do what’s best.”

Like his mentor Fangio, Desai will try to mask coverages by playing them in different formations.

“Just being unpredictable with everything we’re doing and being able to disguise and play a lot of the same coverages and make them look different,” Johnson said. “And having variations.”

Desai got his first look at Johnson on the field Tuesday. Alongside the rest of the Bears’ defensive starters — save for inside linebacker Roquan Smith — Johnson did not practice during the team’s voluntary OTAs but did participate in virtual team meetings.

It was Johnson’s first serious practice activity since the week leading up to the Texans game. The second-round pick got hurt tackling quarterback Deshaun Watson on Dec. 13 and didn’t play another game.

“I was trying to get back,” he said. “It was just about being smart with my shoulder situation and my shoulder history.”

Johnson had three shoulder surgeries in college — two on his right shoulder and one on his left — but did not need surgery this offseason. He said he didn’t feel normal until he finished rehab and physical therapy in March.

Johnson, who had 15 passes defended last year, is focused on interceptions this season.

“The pass breakups were nice and stuff like that — but that’s not what the game’s about,” he said. “The game’s about the ball and taking the ball away.”

The Bears have learned that the hard way. Last year, only four teams averaged fewer than the Bears’ 1.1 takeaways per game. In 2018, they led the league with 2.2.

‘‘This year’s defense can be very dangerous,” Johnson said. “We have the guys with the ability to do it. Once we can be more dangerous in the pass rush, the secondary will be a lot better. We have some time to play with each other. We plan on being a lot better from a secondary standpoint.”

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