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Training Camp Report

Jaylon Johnson assimilating to new faces, ready to compete

Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson
Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson

Jaylon Johnson's intro to his third season as a Bears cornerback looks very similar to his first. Starting during OTAs, Johnson was met with a lot of new faces both in the locker room and coaching department. When training camp started on Tuesday, he saw more unfamiliar personnel.

With practices officially underway now, Johnson is making a point to get reconnected to Halas Hall and the people inside it.

"The building hasn't changed, but the people in it, a lot of it has changed," Johnson said. "So just getting accustomed to the staff, getting accustomed to new players that we've signed. Really just getting ready to go to war. I feel like we have a really tough and long season ahead of us, so I feel like we can make it what we want to make it. And I think that really goes into the work and the preparation that we put in this offseason and then coming into camp. And then after that, we just gotta do what we can."

The arrival of general manager Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus has created an entirely new look to the team, and the players are already feeling those changes early in camp. Johnson already appreciates the new staff's consistency and focus on the fundamentals.

Johnson feels a greater emphasis has been placed on "playing football hard." Running and conditioning has been a major part of that sentiment. Eberflus said every player passed the team's conditioning test on Tuesday.

"Everything's just emphasized differently," Johnson said. "Everything is just being harped on, and I mean the way that they count 'loafs.' The way that they just hold us accountable is crazy compared to what we're used to, really. But I feel like it's all gonna pay off. You can never be in too much shape. You can never be too physical. You can never play football hard enough. I feel like it's all for good measure, for good purpose. But it's definitely gonna be a challenge and I feel like we're up for it."

The Bears hit the fields at Halas Hall on Wednesday for the first practice of Enjoy Illinois Training Camp where they welcomed about 30 groups, including the Highland Park High School football team, as part of "Community Day."

Along with a different intensity, the players will continue to work to learn new schemes in camp. Yet, Johnson doesn't think the style of defense will change his approach or execution. He knows new defensive coordinator Alan Williams will call different plays and the reads may vary, but to Johnson, "defense is defense."

Through two seasons in the league, Johnson has shown he can execute his role as a starting NFL cornerback. In his rookie year, Johnson recorded 44 tackles through 13 games before his season was cut short due to injury. His 15 pass breakups were tied for ninth in the league. During his sophomore season, Johnson compiled 46 tackles and nine pass breakups while recording his first career interception and forced fumble.

Success in Year 3 for Johnson will start with a different level of mental toughness during the next few weeks. An increased sense of accountability combined with the physical intensity Eberflus wants in camp won't simulate any offseason training any of the players participated in.

"I mean, it's not going to be easy. I feel like it's hard to prepare for," Johnson said. "I mean, I don't care how much you ran in the offseason ... it's not going to simulate you running routes, you blocking, you getting knocked to the ground, you making tackles, you having to get off blocks. You can't get that type of look in the offseason. I mean, really, it's going to be a mental battle to keep pushing through it and challenging your body each and every day. Then really taking care of your body when you have some down time. Not putting the wrong things in your body. Not getting enough sleep. I mean it's really more mental in your preparation and just fighting through that [discomfort] that is going to come, for sure."

Creating that tough environment during camp is only part of generating success. Getting every player to buy in and help redefine the culture in the Bears locker room will be just as important.

That starts with how the standards are set ahead of the season. While Johnson said the standards haven't necessarily been raised by the new staff, he feels the standards are just different from last season.

"It's hard to say, 'to raise it,' but they're coming in and re-establishing a different culture, re-establishing a different foundation, a different way of doing things, a different way of moving," he said. "Then I feel like, once we get that establishment, that foundation as a team, the leaders are enforcing that, then I feel like we can truly take that step to truly raise their standard. But I really feel like it starts with the foundation and establishing what they want us to do as a leader, and Justin (Jones) here, too, as a leader, establishing their foundation and getting guys to buy into it. Then once we establish that, then we can take it a step further, and I would say to raise that standard."

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