Ohio State OT Paris Johnson eager to reunite with Justin Fields if Bears draft him

Offensive line is an urgent need for the Bears, and they should have first choice among those players at No. 9. Plus, checking in with Jalen Carter about his visit to Halas Hall.

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A photo of Ohio State offensive tackle Paris Johnson at the NFL Combine.

Johnson has come a long way since trying to find his footing as a freshman when he played with Fields at Ohio State.

Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The turbulence leading up to the NFL Draft finally felt like it was dwindling as 17 of the top prospects jogged around in bucket hats and laughed with local high school kids after a football clinic Wednesday. There was a lightness to the morning knowing the scrutiny was almost over.

All that’s left to do is wait for Thursday night.

For Bears general manager Ryan Poles, though, the most pressure-packed part of the process is just about to start. He dealt the No. 1 pick to the Panthers to stockpile assets, and they’ve been sitting at No. 9 for over a month as they’ve monitored ever-changing draft evaluations.

The volatility was evident as Ohio State left tackle Paris Johnson Jr. stood near midfield at Central High School knowing he propelled himself to the top of his position group, while Georgia standout defensive tackle Jalen Carter stood 20 yards away facing questions about missteps costing him the chance to go No. 1.

Johnson is the favorite to land with the Bears.

They have many needs, but offensive line is urgent. They can’t expect quarterback Justin Fields to grow into a star if they don’t protect him.

For Johnson, who played briefly with Fields at Ohio State, it feels like a perfect match.

“It would be a blessing to be there and play with Justin,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times. “I love the system, I built a great connection with the offensive line coach and playing in that city would be awesome.

“It’d be super cool to play with Justin Fields. When I was a freshman, I was still trying to learn the scheme when they needed me, but now I’m in position to be the person that allows him to continue to have success.”

Poles prioritized the offensive line when he took this job and laid out his archetype of an ideal lineman: Smart, versatile and nasty. Johnson appears to check every box.

He was an All-American for Ohio State last season, has experience at guard and has the build the Bears want at 6-6, 313 pounds. He has a cool disposition, but his highlight reel is full of clips of him flustering pass rushers and delivering thunderous run blocks.

“Have you seen my tape?” he asked matter-of-factly. “You’ll see that’s what separates me: being able to finish you past the whistle. I want you to be so focused on me that you have no concern for my running back or quarterback. You’re concerned about me not hurting you.

“It’s a mindset. I pray for God to give me the mindset of a warrior because you can’t play the game like this, the way I’m talking to you right now.”

The Bears’ main worry about Johnson should be that someone else might take him first. Meanwhile, they’re tracking Carter to see if he slides.

He was overwhelming at Georgia, but pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor charges related to a fatal car crash in January, was too out of shape to complete drills at his pro day and has raised questions about his overall work ethic.

Cunningham didn’t say whether the Bears felt comfortable drafting Carter after hosting him at Halas Hall. Like his other pre-draft stops, he had to do a lot of explaining.

“With people believing in the media, I’ve got to defend myself a little bit,” Carter said. “If they pick me, they’re gonna see the work I put in.”

When asked for an example of how he has been misrepresented, Carter said, “There’s a lot of stuff out there. I don’t know if I could pinpoint everything.”

His talent is enticing, but it’s risky for the Bears to assume they’re the ones that can get him on track.

A gamble like that doesn’t make sense for them right now. Better to go with a surer option in Johnson.

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