Jaylon Johnson primed for giant leap in 2021

After a rookie season marked by coronavirus limitations, the Bears’ second-year cornerback is enjoying the more open atmosphere at training camp — and eager to build on his impressive debut.

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Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson (33) had 15 pass break-ups in 13 games as a rookie in 2020, but did not have an interception.

Stacy Revere/Getty

Cornerbacks live by the credo that you have to have a short memory. Jaylon Johnson took it a step further Thursday — he had no memory.

The Bears’ second-year cornerback not only was burned by wide receiver Darnell Mooney at practice Thursday at Halas Hall, but also fell to the ground on the play, appeared to be shaken up and drew the attention of the training staff. But when asked about it after practice, he had no recollection of either incident.

“I don’t remember going down,” he said.

Did he at least remember the move Mooney put on him?


Johnson repeated the act when asked about wide receiver Marquise Goodwin beating him for a touchdown — “I don’t remember that,” he said with a laugh. He likely was just having a little fun, perhaps an indication of the confidence and comfort he has this season after a promising rookie year — and just his happiness with finally being in a more normal football routine after last year was marred by coronavirus limitations.

Johnson, coming off surgery in March for a shoulder injury he suffered at Utah in September 2019, had no on-field work before training camp last year after the Bears selected him in the second round of the draft. He acclimated himself quickly, became a starter in Week 1 and started every game until suffering a shoulder injury against the Texans in Week 14.

Fully recovered from that injury, which did not require surgery, Johnson is in a much better place this season. He already has noticed the difference with fewer coronavirus restrictions in camp.

“This is the first example — having you guys here,” Johnson said at the podium in the Halas Hall media room. “Just having more people involved. The facility was very limited last year. Just being able to see more people, get somewhat of the full experience and things like that.

“But even the atmosphere, it feels more open and we’re not as worried about being close and following certain protocols. Certain [unvaccinated] guys do, but for the most part, it’s pretty much opened up.”

The personable Johnson has opened up as well and already has a veteran’s mentality entering his second season. With former Pro Bowl cornerback Kyle Fuller in Denver after signing with the Broncos in free agency, Johnson is expected to fill the lead cornerback role. Veteran Desmond Trufant and second-year pro Kindle Vildor are competing for the other cornerback spot.

Johnson had his rookie moments but overall had an impressive first season that supported comparisons to Charles Tillman, a second-round pick in 2003 who became one of the best cornerbacks in franchise history.

Johnson said completion percentage when his man is targeted is the stat he valued most as a cornerback. “If I can hold somebody to at least 50%, 60%, I feel like I’m all right,” he said.

But the number that bothers him most is the zero interceptions he had as a rookie. “I don’t really pay attention to the stats. I just know I didn’t have any interceptions,” he said.

“So that’s what you’re going to hear from me and see from this year, is getting my hands on the ball.”

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