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Bears defense focused on elevating the standard

Defense Goals wide 1

The Bears defense is holding itself to a high standard ahead of the 2024 season. After hitting their stride midseason in 2023 — finishing with the best run defense and tying San Francisco for most interceptions (22) — the group is hungry to establish themselves as a top 5 unit in the NFL this year.

For a defense built on coach Matt Eberflus' HITS principle, takeaways is the catalyst in achieving that goal.

"I feel like the biggest thing for me and what we all talk about is takeaways, more takeaways," nickelback Kyler Gordon said. "We have the goal of 20 and 20 — 20 interceptions and 20 fumbles. However we gotta get it, we're gonna get it. That's just kind of the standard that we're putting ourselves to, that we all hold each other to."

Becoming one of the best defensive units in the NFL has been a main topic of conversation during the team's offseason program. Several members of the offense including offensive lineman Teven Jenkins, tight end Cole Kmet and receiver Keenan Allen have lauded the Bears defense for its high energy, playmaking ability and cohesiveness.

"They look like a top 5 defense," Allen said. "They sound like a top 5 defense too. Defenses are annoying, especially at practice. You just hear them every time they make a play. It's hooray celebration. These guys are running up and down the sideline. … Their energy, the way they communicate, the way they get lined up, definitely high class."

Heading into his third NFL season, Gordon has adopted the mindset of actions speaking louder than words when it comes to the defense's talent. Despite the continuous discussion of where the Bears defense could rank this season, Gordon is more interested in showing that growth on the field.

"I'm all about proving it," Gordon said. "You can say a lot of things. I would say that I definitely feel a lot from the defense as far as chemistry, energy and just the type of timing that we're on. For all of us to be on the same page and a step further than last year, I picture a lot of things for us in the future. I'm just excited."

A lot of the group's energy and celebratory nature stems from the Bears secondary, which returns starters Gordon, Jaylon Johnson, Jaquan Brisker and Tyrique Stevenson and now includes two-time Pro Bowl safety Kevin Byard III.

Aside from Byard, who enters his ninth NFL season, 25-year-old Johnson is the most seasoned starter in the backend. The cornerback, who made his first Pro Bowl in 2023, inked a four-year extension with the Bears this spring, allowing for continuity that benefits both Johnson and a young Bears defense.

"That's why we're so excited," Johnson said, "just to be able to come in with a sense of momentum, not having too many guys that [are new]. I mean, Kevin of course is new, but he's been in the league a long time so he knows how to play the game and he can learn. Just having consistency within the guys [and] having a certain level of experience and a certain level of hunger and everybody just understanding what the standard is and what we want to accomplish."

As for as Johnson's personal motivations following his new contract, he has his sights set on "being the best corner in the league." He believes his growth in football IQ and consistency throughout his NFL career will help guide him to that goal.

"For me being in my fifth year, I can open my lens and I can see things that I couldn't see before in my previous years." Johnson said. "[I'm] pretty comfortable with route concepts and just kind of how offenses go about doing things. Now just finding that rhythm again, getting back into it in minicamp. I feel like for me I'm on a different level.

"And then I feel like the consistency part just comes in with honing in on my technique and that's something that I take extreme pride in, of course in the offseason and then these next few weeks going and preparing for camp, I feel like I'm gonna come in better than I ever have just because of my preparation."

Johnson is also leaning on the Bears' group of talented receivers to help elevate his game during the remainder of minicamp and through training camp. The chance to compete against a veteran receiver like Allen daily and learn why he makes certain decisions in his game is an opportunity that excites Johnson.

"[Keenan] is a receiver that is unpredictable," Johnson said. "As skillful as a lot of these guys are in this league that do a lot of great things, I feel like they are not as unpredictable, they are not as crafty as I feel like Keenan is. So being able to go against that every day, I think it's something that can help me and DBs to get better. Then of course Rome Odunze coming in and finding his way, more so mentally, and then letting his instincts and his physical being take over after that. Of course, DJ Moore is DJ — he's a playmaker so for me, every time I come out, especially for camp, I know I'll be ready to go for sure."