Bears rookie cornerback Jaylon Johnson won't be surprised if he's targeted by Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford in Sunday's season opener in Detroit. In fact, that's exactly what the second-round pick is anticipating.
"I would expect every quarterback to go after the rookie; that's what I would do if I was a quarterback," said Johnson, who is listed as a starter on the Bears depth chart. "For me, it's just about preparing myself to be able to make plays in those positions, and if I give up plays, just keep a strong mindset to just keep pushing."
When Johnson takes the field Sunday in Detroit, it'll be his first game action since last Dec. 9 when he concluded his college career at Utah against Oregon. For the first time in NFL history, rookies were unable to gain experience in preseason contests, which were cancelled due to COVID-19.
Those reps no doubt would have been valuable, but Johnson is confident that he's well-prepared for the regular season.
"I'm more than ready in my head," Johnson said. "I've been preparing my whole life for this. I'm not lacking any confidence. I just go into the game with God having my back and just approach every play by play.
"Going against Nick Foles and Mitch [Trubisky] every day, it just pushes you to be better just to try to figure out what offenses are trying to do to attack me. [And] going against Allen Robinson and all the top wide receivers that we have just pushes your game and elevates your game to the next level."
Johnson isn't the only one who believes that he can contribute immediately.
"I feel like he's ready," said coach Matt Nagy. "You can see his confidence that he has. You have to have short-term memory in this league. He's got extreme confidence. And it's not cocky. It's confidence. I like that about him. He's got a ways to go. He hasn't played an NFL game. We'll see. But in practice so far, I like where he's at."
One indication that convinced Nagy that Johnson is ready to play at the NFL level came during a recent practice when the rookie intercepted a Nick Foles pass.
"That was a veteran move that [Johnson] made on that play," Nagy said. "A lot of rookies, at that point in time, play it a little bit differently. Without giving out too much stuff on the play, that was all instincts. That play he made was all instincts. As a matter of fact, Foles asked after the play, 'How did you know that that play was coming?' He said it was just instincts. Nick was surprised because he thought maybe his defensive coaches were scouting the play, telling him to fall off and make that pick. It was all instincts."
Johnson was a two-time first-team All-Pac 12 selection at Utah, where he played in 38 games with 29 starts in three seasons and recorded 102 tackles, seven interceptions—two of which he returned for touchdowns—21 pass breakups and one sack.
His best year was 2018 when he set career highs with 41 tackles and four interceptions. Last season, Johnson earned second-team All-America honors. He started 13 games, ranking third in the Pac-12 with a team-leading 11 pass breakups.
Johnson played all of last season with a shoulder injury that required surgery in March. He was limited in training camp—often running from one sideline to the other during team drills in practice—but has since fully recovered heading into the regular season.
"I wouldn't say I was ever frustrated," Johnson said. "It was just part of the process that I knew I had to go through during training camp. I was just always trying to find ways to get better. I was always one of the last ones off the field after practice, doing my own individual work, just to kind of make up for the work that I couldn't do for the team. It was just about always trying to find a way to get better and be better and not be complacent."