Through the first week of training camp, the Bears secondary has already exhibited vast improvement. With returning starters Jaylon Johnson and Eddie Jackson assuming leadership roles and rookies Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker flashing playmaking abilities, the group has brought high energy to every practice.
While the team practiced with pads for the first time Tuesday, Johnson said the level of intensity didn't feel much different, at least at his position. Johnson and the defensive back room have been physical even without pads; it's what makes this group unique.
"I feel like we all have something to prove," Johnson said. "I feel like it's bigger this year, more than ever, especially coming off of last year and all the things that were said. And then we have some new guys too, some new additions that also have to come and prove themselves. So, we're all really trying to work together and we all want to win; we all want to do our best. But I mean, we all really got to come in and work together as one unit. And we all got to be hungry and push each other."
Last season, the Bears struggled to defend the passing game, ranking last in the NFL with an opponent passer rating of 103.3. The defense was tied for third in passing touchdowns given up with 31 and recorded just eight interceptions.
Improving the pass defense starts with the entire secondary being on the same page now. Johnson said it's his and Jackson's job to help the younger players while bringing the safeties, corners and nickels together as a unit.
"I feel like it all starts with us leading by our actions, us doing things the right way on and off the field," Johnson said. "And then getting that trust from the younger guys, getting that trust from the guys that are newer to the building, and just show them really how to work. For me, it's really just more so leading by example, and then gaining their trust. And then after that, I feel like we can all follow in one direction."
Enjoy Illinois Training Camp was taken to the next level Tuesday as the Bears practiced in pads for the first time this season at Halas Hall.
Gordon and Brisker, the Bears' top two picks in the draft, have been eager to learn from and lean on their more experienced teammates.
But it's been Johnson and Jackson impressed with the rookies' raw talent and athleticism. Johnson said both Brisker and Gordon have surprised him more than he expected.
"I'm going to start with Kyler first, just his versatility, being able to play and learn the nickel spot," Johnson said. "That's not an easy position, single-handedly, to learn. But for him to initially come in and learn the corner, then transition to more of that nickel back, it just shows his IQ of the game, shows his learning ability, being coachable. Then Jaquan, I didn't really know too much about him coming in. I had a lot of question marks, but just seeing him play, and having conversations with him, and working out after practice, he's definitely hungry for success. He's definitely a competitor. He wants to win, and I love that to start with, for sure."
Both the veterans and rookies have asserted themselves early into camp, starting with an interception from Jackson on the second day of practice. Then on Friday, Brisker and Gordon each recorded an interception. While Johnson hasn't picked anyone off yet, he tipped a pass on Tuesday which led to an interception by Joe Thomas. Johnson has also broken up several passes during practices.
The unit took a significant step Tuesday, shutting down the offense in a two-minute drill at the end of practice. Johnson believes the defense didn't just win the first padded practice, but every practice in camp so far.
"Me personally, I'm trying to win," Johnson said. "I'm trying to whoop their ass every chance I get, and I feel like they need that. I mean, we all need that. We all want to go against each other. We all want to compete and that's how we get better at the end of the day. So, I mean, they know when they come up to me, I'm trying to win every rep."