Bears don't plan to hand rookie Johnson the starting spot at CB

  • Utah defensive back Jaylon Johnson, who's now signed with the Bears, runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis on Sunday, March 1, 2020.

    Utah defensive back Jaylon Johnson, who's now signed with the Bears, runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis on Sunday, March 1, 2020. Associated Press

Updated 6/29/2020 6:32 PM

The Bears chose Utah's Jaylon Johnson in the second round of the draft, so it's probably safe to say they expect him to take over the starting cornerback slot held down by Prince Amukamara the past three years.

But will Johnson get a chance right away, especially after the pandemic wiped out offseason training?


Secondary coach DeShea Townsend, for one, is expecting competition.

"It's everybody's job to be a starter," Townsend said in a recent teleconference with reporters. "All of those guys in the room, if you want to be a player in this league, if you want to be a pro, you better have the mindset to be a starter.

"So we should have a full room of competitors and guys who think they're starters. That's what I believe in, that's what I was taught. If you're a starter, you better hold the guys off. If you're not a starter, your role is to be a starter."

There are candidates to challenge Johnson for the starting spot. Kevin Toliver might have an edge since he filled in for Amukamara late last season, getting a start in the win over Dallas.

Toliver joined the Bears in 2018 as an undrafted free agent from LSU. Townsend praised the work Toliver did against Dallas' Amari Cooper and Green Bay's Devante Adams late last season and the video backs him up. But it's still a small sample size.

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Toliver was the culprit in a 19-yard touchdown reception by Cooper in the fourth quarter of that game at Soldier Field. Toliver had him covered well, but Dak Prescott dropped the pass perfectly in Cooper's lap.

"He showed that he is a starter in this league," Townsend said of Toliver. "Now it's his job to hold anybody off that comes to get it. Competition is going to bring the best out of everybody."

Some other new arrivals in the mix are Artie Burns, a 2016 first-round pick for Pittsburgh, and Tre Roberson, the former Illinois State quarterback who led the CFL in interceptions last year.

The Bears have also drafted three other corners the past two years -- Duke Shelley and Stephen Denmark in 2018 and Kindle Vildor this year -- all in Round 5 or below.


Johnson had 7 interceptions during his three years at Utah, including a pick-six at Washington last fall. Townsend talked about what he liked most about Johnson's college film.

"You saw a guy that played a lot of man-to-man," said Townsend, who played cornerback for 13 seasons in the NFL, mostly with the Steelers. "You also saw them do some adjustable coverages where you saw him have to play some different schemes and some different techniques.

"The thing I liked was you saw a guy that played man for most of his career, a guy that knew if he got beat, they (the opposing team) probably were coming back. So you saw some of that mental toughness you have to have."

One interesting aspect of the Bears' cornerback play is while Kyle Fuller went to the Pro Bowl the past two years, opposing teams threw to his side far more than Amukamara. Over the past two seasons, Fuller was targeted 227 times, while Amukamara, who missed two games during that span, saw 160 targets.

The Bears reportedly saved $9 million in cap space by releasing Amukamara with one year left on his contract. The 2011 first-round pick of the New York Giants has since signed with Las Vegas.

• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls


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