Jaylon Johnson’s Season Will Go as the Starter on the Other Side Of the Field Goes

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune quotes cornerback Jaylon Johnson after intercepting quarterback Justin Fields in the red zone on Monday.

“I’ve been wanting to get to game week since the start of camp,” [Johnson] said. “So, everything you do is preparation. The more snaps, the more ready I can get for game one. It’s what drives me at this point. I mean, the old saying is the hay is never in the barn. Even for some of the best, you’ve always got to find new things. There’s always going to be something you can get better at. For me, I want to create more turnovers. Just trying to find different ways and creative ways to get more turnovers.”

Johnson is trying to get a new contract this year and I have no doubt that in preliminary discussions the Bears have focused on his ball production. He has 1 interception in 39 games played over 3 seasons in the NFL.

The fact that Johnson is in a contract year is great news for the Bears and their fans in that it provides additional motivation for Johnson to perform. That’s not to suggest that he would not have been motivated anyway. But money is always an additional motivating factor.

The shame of it is that, if the preseason is any indication, Johnson won’t be seeing much action on his side of the field. It looks to me very much like teams will be testing whoever starts on the other side, probably rookie Tyrique Stevenson.

I guess we’ll find out. But there’s no doubt that the better that Stevenson or whoever starts in that position does, the happier Johnson will be in the more opportunities he will get to show what he can do to make the money that he thinks he deserves.

Will Jaylon Johnson Be Re-Signed Ever?

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions.

Will the Bears extend any other players by the start of the season? — @jtbcubs

Cornerback Jaylon Johnson is probably the player with the best chance of being extended before the season when you consider the situations with Chase Claypool coming off an unproductive 2022 season and Darnell Mooney returning from an injury. And I’m not saying there is a high probability of Johnson being extended.

It’s clear tight end Cole Kmet was the top priority for general manager Ryan Poles to sign, and that took six weeks or so to complete. Can a contract get done sooner? Yes. But can the Bears and Johnson’s new representation find common ground?

Johnson has missed some time each of the last three seasons with injuries, and the front office can’t be blamed for wondering about his commitment after skipping a big chunk of the voluntary offseason program. Yes, it’s voluntary, but the Bears aren’t going to wipe that out of their thoughts when mulling a major financial commitment.

It’s also possible Poles wants to see how Johnson performs early in the season before firming up what he believes Johnson’s value is moving forward. I wouldn’t be surprised either way with Johnson before the season.

Yes, I wouldn’t be surprised. But I kind of doubt that it’s going to happen.

Something tells me that the Bears already know that they’re not going to be able to meet Johnson’s price. Johnson sounds like he’s willing to be reasonable and that he knows that he’s not at All Pro. But he doesn’t seem to me like the kind of player who is going to accept anything less than what he thinks his value is.

And he seems like the kind of player who would definitely over-value himself. It isn’t just the fact that he’s felt like he was free to miss offseason workouts. Some may remember that he was the guy who Tweeted out the letter that former head coach Matt Nagy sent fining him for being late to meetings. I can’t imagine how bad the problem must have been for Nagy to have had to bring himself to do that. And, of course, it says even more about Johnson that he distributed the Tweet in the first place.

Under Poles the Bears seem to be becoming the type of organization that puts a value on a player and sticks to it. That’s nice after years of over spending by former GM Ryan Pace. But if the Bears are at one number and he’s at the other, I don’t think that they are very likely to meet in the middle.

I think the Bears have shown what they think of the odds that they are going to be able to sign Johnson with their actions. Having drafted, Kyler Gordon in the second round in 2022 and Tyrique Stevenson and Terell Smith in the second and fifth rounds, respectively, in 2023, I have to see these players, as being both depth and insurance against the possibility that Johnson won’t be signed.

NFL Conundrum: Practice Like You Play or Rest for the Season?

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions.

How much will the starters play in preseason? — Jason W., Rolling Meadows

You’re asking about something most coaches, Matt Eberflus included, treat as a closely guarded secret. I do find it a little amazing that coaches — and this isn’t commentary on only Eberflus — can spend the offseason charting what they will do down to the minute through training camp and leading up to the regular season but don’t know what they’re going to do in preseason games. Yes, it’s a little early and things can shift, but the reality is coaches don’t want to reveal their plans until they inform the players, which happens much closer to game time.

“We’ve talked about that a little,” Eberflus said Tuesday. “Have not finalized it right now. But we actually visited about that this morning. It will be some time — it will be some play time. But what that is right now, I’m not sure.”

Whether that means playing time for starters in the preseason opener Aug. 12 against the Tennessee Titans, we don’t know. Many teams have taken a hard stance against playing front-line players in preseason action, and the Bears certainly don’t want to expose quarterback Justin Fields, wide receiver DJ Moore, linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and other key players to injuries in meaningless games.

I’m also of the opinion that a handful of snaps probably doesn’t do a lot to prepare a player for the regular season. You aren’t going to convince me that 15 snaps for Braxton Jones at left tackle in the preseason are going to make him any more or less prepared for Week 1 against the Green Bay Packers.

A couple thoughts here.

First I kind of understand why coaches don’t want to talk about things like this. It isn’t that it’s some closely guarded national secret that’s going to make or break the season. But if you tell the media what your plans are and then something happens during the game and those plans don’t come to fruition, you’re going to be asked about it. Sometimes that’s OK. But there are times when coaches don’t want to explain, for instance, that a player didn’t get as many snaps as planned because they sustained an injury that no one wants to talk about Coaches would much rather keep reporters in the dark and tell you that whatever happened was the original plan.

I’m not defending it. But I do understand it.

Second, my guess is that the starters won’t see much playing time in the pre-season. I think the indications are that the Bears are one of those teams that prefers to keep their players healthy during the summer at the expense of training time.

I know that there are some coaches who prefer to go with the “practice like you play” philosophy. This would mean, to some extent, playing through injuries even during the summer so that players understand that that’s what’s expected and get used to it.

After all, as the players say, the only game that you ever play in the NFL when you’re completely healthy is your first one. If you aren’t practicing every time something hurts, you basically arne’t practicing.

I am reminded of the Chase Claypool incident where the Bears put him on the injured list to begin camp and then the very next day took him off. In my head, I imagined the Bears saying to themselves that they prefer to have him completely healthy for the season and rest whatever minor injury is bothering him. I would speculate that Claypool, coming from Pittsburgh, is more of the mind that you play through those things even when you practice. It’s a question of being tough and setting an example for the other players. My guess is that Claypool’s training with a tough, no nonsense organization told him that was the right thing to do. So he told the bears to take him off of the injured list.

That’s pure speculation. But I know tthat’s what some successful organizations expect and I can see it happening.

Justin Fields Needs to Learn to Fight Another Day

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions.

From videos, it seems Justin Fields is willing to take checkdowns more often. Do you see this being a big thing for the offense when he is taking those 4- to 5-yard completions? — @dabearszach

It definitely will be a positive if the Bears can get the running backs more involved in the passing game. Those are some of the “layups,” as offensive coordinator Luke Getsy calls them. Take the short gain, live to play another down. Those dump-offs eliminate the chances for a huge play on some of those snaps but they also create a profit, if even a small one. They keep drives moving. The Bears totaled only 62 targets for running backs/fullbacks last season with David Montgomery leading with way with 40 (34 receptions, 316 yards).

From my perspective, there have been too many checkdowns to running backs or throws to tight ends on short-curl or hook routes in 7-on-7 periods in camp. You don’t want to see an abundance of passes directed to running backs. The goal is for the quarterback to see the Nos. 1 and 2 reads and get the ball out or if he has to work back to No. 3, do that but with speed and tempo. That is being decisive with the ball.

Checkdowns happen. Because the Bears can be Cover-2 heavy at times on defense, there are going to be plays in which that’s the outlet. If you have two-deep coverage over the top and they are capping the vertical throws and you see the linebacker drop, boom, you drop it off to the running back and go to the next play. That is what the defense wants. Being decisive is seeing it fast in the pocket and delivering the ball rhythm. It doesn’t matter who it is going to, but you don’t want a bunch of completions to running backs or short checkdowns to tight ends. It has been a consistent theme.

Biggs is, of course quite right. However, as I’ve said, before, Fields has a bad habit of simply holding the ball too long, and, especially in two minute situations at the end of games, it cost him and the team.

Biggs points out that the Bears defense can be covered 2 heavy, and that forces you to take with the defense gives you underneath. In two minute situations teams are always in this kind of coverage. The entire goal is to prevent the offense from making big plays. This is where Fields falls down. Be patient, take the shorter gains in these periods and be confident that you’ve got time to do it.

Rumor has it that when Fields was intercepted last week by an unknown, undrafted rookie it was in a two minute situation when the down and distance was first and 20. Everything was covered underneath and Fields threw the ball up for grabs in an effort to make a play that wasn’t there.

Even the always overly positive Adam Jahns at The Athletic had to admit after a glowing report about the Bears’ preformance in a another two minute drill that, “All of that success, though, came after Fields was intercepted by cornerback Josh Blackwell on his first pass in the situational drill.” Again. that is, on first down in a two minute situation where Fields could have thrown a low percentage but safe ball where only the reciever could have caught it and lived to fight another day.

Instead, he threw the ball up and it was intercepted. Game over and the Bears lose another one possession game at the end.

That kind of thing can’t keep happening this year. Taking the underneath throw has to be the answer. And if that means checking the ball down more often in camp, well, perhaps that’s something Fields needs to get more used to doing in situations that call for it.