Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson embracing greater challenge in 2nd season

Johnson will be tasked with being the Bears' top cornerback after Kyle Fuller's departure.

(670 The Score) As a rookie last season, Jaylon Johnson followed the lead of fellow Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller.

Bears defensive backs coach Deshea Townsend noticed it early -- how Johnson asked the same questions as the veteran Fuller, how he studied film to find tendencies and how he took pride in his craft in the same way.

Fuller was released by the Bears in March, a move that got them under the salary cap. In doing so, they also moved Johnson to the top of their depth chart.

"It’s something I’ve been working for my whole life," Johnson said.

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To fulfill the big responsibility he has now, the first hurdle for Johnson is health. He played in 13 games in 2020 before suffering a right shoulder injury in a Dec. 13 game against the Texans when he squared up quarterback Deshaun Watson at the goal line. For Johnson, it proved to be a season-ending injury to the same shoulder that he had surgically repaired before being drafted by Chicago.

Johnson didn't require surgery this time, and his shoulder is now at 100% and he's without restrictions, he said. Johnson was a full participant during the Bears' OTAs and minicamp earlier this summer.

Beyond health, the 22-year-old Johnson also has more to prove with his performance. He graded out 84th of 121 cornerback last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Johnson allowed a completion percentage of 56.4% and 8.9 yards per target, both marks he can improve on. He will enter 2021 still seeking his first career interception in the NFL as well.

Johnson was steady and displayed promise as a rookie, but the Bears now need him to ascend to the next level.

A 13-year NFL veteran cornerback, Townsend pointed to the lack of offseason acclimation during the virtual lead-up to training camp as part of the reason for Johnson's inconsistencies.

"He's only going to get better," Townsend said. "Just the fine things of the position, more learning of the details of playing corner in the NFL, he'll get better."

Bears general manager Ryan Pace sees it the same way.

"We got a lot of confidence in Jaylon Johnson and his growth in his second season," Pace said.

After releasing Fuller, the Bears signed eight-year veteran cornerback Desmond Trufant to a one-year deal. Kindle Vildor, Duke Shelley, Tre Roberson and Artie Burns are also in the mix at cornerback. But it's Johnson whom the Bears hope solidifies the position for years to come, starting in 2021.

Had it not been for the uncertainty about his shoulder prior to the 2020 NFL Draft, when teams struggled to obtain proper medical evaluations, Johnson might have been selected in the first round instead of the second. For their part, the Bears stood confident in the information they had gathered and believed his shoulder wouldn't be an issue.

Johnson was tested in his health and performance as a rookie and now enters his second season with a fresh opportunity and greater challenge. He's hoping to become what the Bears believe he can be -- a top cornerback.

"Just from last year, the game naturally slows down, getting that year under your belt," Johnson said. "For me, just my body is more at ease. My mind is more at ease, being able to see things and being able to have better eyes, a better understanding of what the offense is trying to do and how the defense works as well.

"I just want to be where the ball’s at, just being able to make plays and impact the defense the best way I can."

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.

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