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Jaylon Johnson a firm believer in 'HITS' principle

Bears defensive back Jaylon Johnson
Bears defensive back Jaylon Johnson

Bears players developed a Shakespeare-inspired quote to contextualize coach Matt Eberflus' "HITS" principle: "Thou who runneth to the ball, good things shall happen."

Cornerback Jaylon Johnson said the team often jokes around with it, but has found it to be accurate. HITS, by the way, is an acronym for Hustle, Intensity, Takeaways and (playing) Smart.

Johnson admittedly didn't buy into HITS right away. In his third season with the Bears, Johnson wasn't familiar with the saying, so there was skepticism. It didn't last long, though. 

"It was just something that I wasn't familiar with, something I wasn't used to doing, so naturally there's going to be some back-and-forth," Johnson said. "But really coming in, being in it, going through it during the spring, and now, like I said, it's becoming second nature. It is what it is. It's the standard, and as a leader I have to push myself to push other guys, to uphold that standard. I'm definitely used to it now. It's natural. It's what the expectation is."

Pushback on the principle was anticipated by defensive coordinator Alan Williams. When Williams was hired, he discussed the struggles he and Eberflus endured while instilling HITS into the Colts organization. Williams said the buy-in didn't come right away because of how intense the ask was. 

Once Johnson understood the why of the principle and realized it became the standard, his hesitation disappeared.  

"If you don't run to the ball, not too many good things are going to happen at the end of the day," Johnson said. "There's no really selling anything. You're going to buy into it or you're not. And I felt like at the end of the day, if you don't buy into it, you're not going to play, so I mean I felt like it wasn't too much to sell."

Aside from the enhanced endurance, the principle has helped Johnson and his teammates see "the bright side of running." There's a reason that running and intensity is emphasized; it creates more opportunities for success. 

Johnson said the effects of the HITS principle are easy to spot on tape. When players run harder and faster to the ball, there's a greater chance of making a big play. Seeing results this early has given the players confidence to push themselves to go even harder. 

An example Johnson gave was defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga pick-six in Saturday's practice. 

"You've seen how we finished the play when Khyiris Tonga got the interception, just things like that, nobody would have ran all the way to the end zone, like finishing," Johnson said. "As fun as that seems, that's a lot of energy to do. But it's just that muscle memory of catch the ball and run. Everything that we're doing is ball here, run. Ball here, run. Everything we're doing is just running to the ball. I mean, that quote kind of funny but it's real. When you really run to the ball, you can get tipped a pass, you can get a fumble because you can never know what can really go on in a game."

In Tuesday's practice, Johnson highlighted the importance of finishing every play by creating two takeaways. In a team drill, a throw tipped off Darnell Mooney's hands and Johnson got to the ball in time to intercept it. Two players later, the cornerback deflected a pass and rookie cornerback Kyler Gordon picked it off. 

By design, the HITS principle is becoming second nature for the team. It's been demanded since Eberflus arrived and is a part of everything the Bears do. It's expected in walk-throughs, jog-throughs, padded practices and non-padded days. Soon, it'll become an expectation each game.

"I mean that's all we really preach. That's all we really talk about, is the HITS principle," Johnson said. "Really just, really trying our best to perform that and make that natural, make that a habit. But I really feel like it's going to come down to us giving the offense good field position. Us changing the game and creating turnovers, giving them the ball back. I feel like that's really gonna test who we are as a defense: getting stops, turning the ball over."