Top Bears Building Block Gets ‘Notable’ Message From HC Matt Eberflus

Matt Eberflus

Getty New Bears coach Matt Eberflus could be facing a hefty fine after a violation of the league's CBA.

When the Chicago Bears took the field for their second round of OTAs on May 23, a key starter from the previous two seasons was taking snaps with the second unit.

Cornerback Jaylon Johnson was a second-round pick (50th overall) for the Bears in 2020, and he has been one of the team’s bright spots since his addition.

Often referred to as one of the team’s top building blocks, Johnson has started 28 out of a possible 33 games for the Bears in his first two seasons in the league, amassing 90 tackles (two for loss), a forced fumble, an interception and 24 passes defensed, per PFR.

The 23-year-old cornerback was selected by the former regime, however — and new coach Matt Eberflus is making him earn his spot in the starting lineup.

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Eberflus Says Not to ‘Read Into’ it

“I wouldn’t read into that right now,” Eberflus said on May 23 when asked about Johnson playing with second team. “He’s just getting back into action, so we’re just seeing where he is with his conditioning and those types of things. But 1s and 2s, we’re moving all guys around. We have a bunch of guys with the 1s, with the 2s, we have some 3s in there. But nothing to read into that at this time.”

Eberflus may be saying it’s nothing, but actions speak louder than words. The head coach also called the third-year cornerback a “work in progress” shortly before heaping praise on rookie CB Kyler Gordon after the first round of OTAs May 17.

During the second week of OTAs, Eberflus had Gordon and 2020 fifth-rounder Kindle Vildor playing with the starters, although he did offer praise for what he has seen from Johnson so far.

“I didn’t get a chance to look at him, and now I’ve seen him for a week and I like what I see,” Eberflus added. “I mean, he’s moving around really good. His change of direction is nice. He’s got really good hands. As you know, he’s got good size. So now just really looking at his coverage ability and it’s in a good spot. It’s in a really good spot. So we’re just working with him and again trying assess his skills and we’ll coach him as we go.”

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Johnson Says He’s Ready for New Challenges

“I mean, it’s definitely different from what we were used to running here in the past, but I feel like it gives us a lot more opportunities to see the quarterback, to make plays on the ball,” Johnson said about the team’s new defensive scheme during OTAs on May 17. “Definitely have got to learn the system, learn the communication, learn the verbiage, and I feel like that’s going to be big, especially for the secondary.”

Johnson also noted he feels fine, although Eberflus mentioning his conditioning seems important.

“I feel the same. I feel confident as ever. I don’t feel like there’s nothing I can’t do,” Johnson said, adding: “I feel like it just comes down to work ethic. I feel like just kind of earning that respect as a hard worker and doing extra work. Because I mean right now I feel like it’s not too much about production. I feel like it’s just really about knowing your assignment and playing hard.”

Johnson playing with the 2’s may be nothing — but it’s worth watching. Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune called the situation with Johnson “notable” and “something to keep an eye on.” If the young CB is still with the 2’s when veteran minicamp kicks off on June 14, Eberflus will likely be facing more questions about the situation.

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