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It’s easy to assume Jaylon Johnson will be the Bears’ Week 1 starter at cornerback opposite Kyle Fuller. He’s a good player with a great resume in college, leading some draft observers to argue the Bears picked a first-round talent in the second round. 

His main competition is a former undrafted free agent (Kevin Toliver), a flameout former first round pick (Artie Burns) and a former college quarterback-turned-CFL star (Tre Roberson II). So, again: It’s easy to pencil Johnson in as a plug-and-play starter his rookie year. 

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Cornerbacks coach DeShea Townsend, though, is here to challenge that assumption. 

“I think we need to change that narrative,” Townsend said last month. “You never want to give somebody their job, and I don’t want Jaylon to think it’s his job because we drafted him.”

Rookies face a difficult, but not impossible, path to being season-opening starters, and often times it takes a few weeks for them to get on the field (think Roquan Smith and James Daniels in 2018). That’s in a normal year, with rookie minicamps and OTAs existing as important foundation-building practices before the real competition starts in training camp. This is, of course, not a normal year.

Johnson and Townsend missed a lot without those spring practices, and it means the Utah product will have a more difficult path than usual to quickly earning the starting job for which he's all but destined.

“I think it's going to be tough for a lot of these young guys just missing the actual reps of OTAs and making some of those mistakes, that you can coach him off the tape,” Townsend said. “And that's going to be a different type of situation. But for me just to see him compete, see if he can come back every day after a bad day. How does he respond to that? You know. He's already a great kid. I'm not worried about him taking coaching. But how do you respond from when you have a bad day. Those are the things that you have to see as a young guy that you want to see if he can handle it.”

 

While Johnson is probably the second-best cornerback on the Bears' roster, it wouldn't be surprising if Toliver or Burns started Week 1 against the Detroit Lions. In fact, it might be more surprising if Johnson actually were starting at Ford Field in early September. 

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Toliver, by the way, does have some upside that shouldn’t be dismissed here, and taking a flier on Burns is hardly a bad idea. This isn’t just about Johnson; it’s about the guys he’ll compete against, too.

Eventually, though, Johnson will start in 2020. It just might not be until Week 2 or Week 4 or Week 8. It’s hard to know without seeing him on the field at all this year. 

But if it takes longer than we might’ve thought when the Bears drafted him, that’s okay. The transition from college to the NFL is tough, and the pandemic will make it tougher on the 2020 rookie class – Johnson included.

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