Roschon Johnson a player to watch in preseason opener

Preseason results are often misleading — especially for backups playing with and against backups. But the rookie running back is an intriguing, physical player whose production could be universal. And the Bears figure to give him every chance to prove he can help.

SHARE Roschon Johnson a player to watch in preseason opener

Bears rookie running back Roschon Johnson has made an impact with his physicality at training camp.

Nam Y. Huh, AP Photos

NFL analyst Chris Simms of NBC Sports was doing a breakdown of Bears quarterback Justin Fields as No. 23 on his list of the top 40 quarterbacks in the NFL when the subject turned to Fields’ improved supporting cast:

“DJ Moore, [Chase] Claypool, [Darnell] Mooney, Cole Kmet, Roschon Johnson . . .”

Wait, what? Since when is Johnson — a rookie running back drafted in the fourth round who had all of 93 carries for Texas last year and ranked 158th in the NCAA in rushing yards (561) — the fifth-most recognizable weapon in the Bears’ offense?

Simms is a former Longhorn, so that’s the likely connection. But the odd inclusion of Johnson in that off-the-cuff list is just another tale of the intrigue Johnson has elicited. From general manager Ryan Poles on down, the Bears have been smitten with this kid since the day they met him.

“I feel really strongly about this guy; I’m excited for you guys to meet him,” Bears scout John Syty said the day Johnson was drafted. “There’s a level of ‘it’ factor to this kid the second he walks into the room that all you guys are going to feel. . . . I’m a little emotional about this kid. . . . I have a feeling this guy is going to be with us for a really long time. He’s just a special person, and you guys [reporters] will see that right away.”

Poles echoed those sentiments — “I was shocked that he was still on the board . . . he’s an unbelievable human being who is going to enhance our culture’’ — and on and on it went. When coach Matt Eberflus was asked at the conclusion of the offseason program for below-the-radar players who earned a better look in training camp, “Ro” was prominent on his list.

“Ro, the tailback, has done a great job of picking things up,” Eberflus said, “and I’m excited to see him in pads because I think he’s really going to take off once we get the pads on.”

Johnson, after missing the first two with an undisclosed injury, indeed has made an impact in padded practices — including one notable thumping of safety A.J. Thomas in a running drill. His impressive work in pass-blocking drills also supported the notion that the more physical the game gets in training camp, the better Johnson will look.

So the intrigue is still going strong heading into the Bears’ preseason opener against the Titans at noon on Saturday at Soldier Field. Johnson moved from fifth to third on the depth chart in an hour Tuesday — a bit of a quirk with a corrected version but still an amusing part of his storyline.

Preseason results are often famously misleading, with backups on both sides playing the majority of the game. But Johnson is a player to watch regardless of who’s on the field with him or which defense he’s going against. The Bears are going to give him every chance to move up. And his physicality is a more universal asset.

“He’s really caught our eye a few times since he’s been back [from the injury],” Eberflus said. “He’s a smart kid. He’s a tough kid. [You’ve] seen him play with good pad level and knee drive and all that good stuff. We’ve just got to continue to get him to feel comfortable with everything that we’re doing, and if we can do that, I think he’s someone that can help us.”

Johnson, as low-key at the interview podium as he is physical on the field, is eager to prove that.

“I know the talent that I possess, and I know what my capabilities are,’’ he said. ‘‘So I know I’m more than capable of providing for this team. It’s just a matter of learning the system, being able to play faster and learning the nuances of the system, so I can go out there and not think and just play and have my body take over.”

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