‘Everything feels the same’ for Bears CB Johnson despite new contract, number

A lot has changed in Jaylon Johnson’s life since the Bears season ended in January.

He signed a four-year, $76 million extension with the team in March. He got engaged and is expecting his second child. He even changed his jersey number from No. 33 to No. 1.

But despite the contract and the changes in his life on and off the field, everything remains the same as Johnson tries to build off a career season.

“No different,” Johnson told reporters Wednesday at Halas Hall during mandatory minicamp. “New number, so that feels a little different. As far as the contract goes, that doesn’t change the way I move or how I go about doing things on the field. Everything feels the same for me.”

The Bears are hoping that’s the case after Johnson’s career year in 2023. He had a career-high four interceptions in 14 games and 36 tackles last season, earning himself second-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors.

Johnson did it all after betting on himself heading into the final season of his rookie contract. He entered 2023 with one interception in three years and didn’t intercept his first pass last year until Week 7, when he finished with two against the Las Vegas Raiders.

Although Bears general manager Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus inherited Johnson from a previous regime, both believed Johnson could be one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL and a cornerstone to the Bears’ young secondary. Eberflus said Wednesday that Johnson earned his trust through discipline and daily work habits.

“He showed that he had an area he needed to work on and he got better at it,” Eberflus said. “So he showed determination and then he really showed his devotion and love for the game to me and that’s what he did. So determination, discipline and devotion.”

Johnson showed that can be a key part of what many consider to be one of the top secondary groups in the league. Since the Bears traded for defensive end Montez Sweat ahead of Week 9, the defense allowed more than 250 passing yards just twice.

The Bears tied with the San Francisco 49ers in leading the league with 22 interceptions last season, and they allowed the eighth-least amount of passing yards (4,043).

Chicago Bears cornerback Kyler Gordon listens to reporters during a news conference after the NFL team's mandatory minicamp football practice in Lake Forest, Ill., Wednesday, June 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) AP

Cornerback Kyler Gordon was excited about Johnson’s breakthrough and what it could mean for the Bears secondary’s continued growth.

“It’s exciting,” Gordon said. “He’s going to bring the success here and keep going. We’re going to keep surrounding him and pushing him to keep doing what he does and stuff like that.”

Johnson said he feels more prepared than he ever has entering his fifth NFL season. While he always knew he had the talent to compete in the NFL, Johnson said he can see things from a wider lens that he didn’t have in previous years.

“I feel like I’m going to come in better than I ever have just because of my preparation,” Johnson said. “Just the way that I’ve been able to grow mentally, spiritually and all aspects. I feel like really just my IQ and then my consistency and growth.”

Johnson is hoping the Bears can continue the growth they showed from last season. He said he hasn’t thought much about how things have changed since his rookie season, but he is trying to improve the team’s winning percentage.

The Bears are 24-43 during his time, and he’s ready for the Bears to take their next step.

“Since I’ve been in the building, we haven’t had a winning season yet,” Johnson said. “I think that’s the biggest step for me: trying to get as many wins as possible this year, trying to get 10 wins, trying to get to the playoffs, get some things I feel like this building hasn’t had for me since I’ve been here.”

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