LAKE FOREST – Jaylon Johnson is a budding star and should be one of the leaders of the Bears' defense under new head coach Matt Eberflus.
So it was a surprise Tuesday when Johnson ran with the second-team defense during the Bears' fourth OTA practice. Rookie Kyler Gordon and Kindle Vildor ran with the first team.
Having one of your young building blocks work with the B Team would seem to be cause for concern. But Eberflus promises it's not a big deal.
"He's just getting back into action right now," Eberflus said Tuesday. "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."
Johnson missed the voluntary minicamp, which means last week was the first time Eberflus has gotten eyes on the young corner. However, after a handful of practices seeing Johnson work, Eberflus has a better idea of what Johnson can do.
"I like what I see," Eberflus said. "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. And it's in a really good spot. So we're just working with him and again trying to assess his skills, and we'll coach him as we go."
Johnson running with the second team feels like a challenge from his new head coach. The Bears have high expectations for Johnson and want him to be a leader on the defense in 2022 and the future. The best way to set a tone and create a strong culture is by demanding the most from your best players.
Johnson knows that he has to prove himself all over again with a new regime in charge.
"I mean, that's my mindset moving forward," Johnson said after the Bears' second OTA practice on May 17. "It’s a complete reset. Everything I’ve done in the past with the other coaches, with the other staff, I mean, it really doesn’t mean anything too much. I mean, the film is not going to lie to you. But at the end of the day, they want me to show them what I can do in person moving forward."
Eberflus has a high standard for how he wants the Bears to practice and go about their daily business. Cornerbacks coach James Rowe believes Johnson is meeting Eberflus' standard and is heading in the right direction.
"I think he is on a good path right now," Rowe said. "The thing that I probably like most about him so far is how intelligent of a football player he is. Just continuing to do that, and then obviously, you have a new system, so just learning our system and the way we want guys to practice and how we want things done.
"He is doing a good job of taking ownership of that. I'm looking forward to seeing him excel in the system."
The Bears, meanwhile, have been effusive in their praise of Gordon during OTAs. Eberflus said the Washington product was "lighting it up," and linebacker Nicholas Morrow lauded Gordon and fellow rookie Jaquan Brisker's ability to create turnovers.
If Gordon and Brisker can be Day 1 starters for the Bears, the secondary will have gone from a massive weakness to a strength in one offseason.
Johnson is a big part of that equation. Eberflus might be challenging the young star, or the Bears might simply be trying to figure out where his skills best fit in the new defense.
Either way, it's May. Johnson running with the twos is notable but likely will resolve itself by the time training camp rolls around.