4 things we learned from the Chicago Bears, including Jaylon Johnson’s versatility as the defense prepares to face a string of premier receivers


The Chicago Bears on Thursday continued preparation for the Philadelphia Eagles, with quarterback Justin Fields returning to practice after missing a day with an illness.

Here are four things we learned from the team’s three coordinators.

1. Cornerback Jaylon Johnson’s versatility is something defensive coordinator Alan Williams has come to appreciate.

The intrigue for how the Bears will deploy Johnson in the remaining four games starts Sunday at Soldier Field. Eagles wide receiver A.J. Brown is the first of four receivers in the top 10 in yardage the defense will face down the stretch. Brown leads the Eagles with 65 receptions for 1,020 yards and 10 touchdowns. His average of 15.9 yards per reception is third in the league for those with more than 35 catches, trailing only the Buffalo Bills’ Gabe Davis (18.3) and Miami Dolphins’ Jaylen Waddle (17).

The challenges don’t get easier in the coming weeks:

  • Dec. 24 vs. Buffalo Bills: Stefon Diggs — 94 receptions, 1,239 yards, 10 touchdowns
  • Jan. 1 at Detroit Lions: Amon-Ra St. Brown — 82 receptions, 898 yards, 6 touchdowns
  • Jan. 8 vs. Minnesota Vikings: Justin Jefferson — 99 receptions, 1,500 yards, 6 touchdowns

Jefferson torched the Bears for 12 catches for 154 yards in Week 5 at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Lions have another dangerous weapon as first-round draft pick Jameson Williams has returned from an ACL injury suffered in the national championship game in January.

So it’s fair to wonder what Alan Williams will ask Johnson to do. He primarily has lined up on the right side but has shadowed a receiver at times and has played on the left side too. On occasion, the Bears have lined Johnson up to the boundary.

“Without telling everyone what we’ll do week to week, he’s been fantastic about going in different places and doing different things,” Williams said. “Every corner in the NFL, I tell you, will not do that. They’ll say, ‘No, Coach, I’m a left corner and that’s where I’m going to be.’ He is fantastic about doing that. And when he does do that it helps him in terms of his assignment sometimes and then it helps me because I can put other guys in position to take care of their assignments. He does it as well as anyone out there that I see that matches (with receivers).”

2. Alex Leatherwood will see more playing time at right tackle Sunday. But how much?

Leatherwood made his Bears debut before the bye, rotating in with Riley Reiff to get 10 snaps in the Dec. 4 loss to the Green Bay Packers, and how the playing time is divided will be determined by a final evaluation of the practice week and then game flow.

For the coaching staff, it’s not as simple as saying, “Leatherwood has a good chance to be with the team next season and Reiff does not, let’s look at the guy who hasn’t played yet.”

“First off, we’re always going to do what we feel gives us the best opportunity to win,” offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said. “But I’m extremely interested to see where he can go. He’s a guy who got here and had a slow start and then gets sick. Now we’ve seen him get better each and every week, so the opportunities will continue to grow for him. But we’re never going to sacrifice one particular person’s growth over what we feel like is the best opportunity to win.”

What about the big picture and looking ahead to 2023 to help define longer-range plans?

“No,” Getsy said. “We owe it to everybody in that room who is fighting their tails off to try and win every single game that we play.”

Getsy pointed out the team rotated Teven Jenkins and Lucas Patrick at right guard early in the season, and the results there can’t be argued. Jenkins, who was new to the position as a pro, has flourished since shifting inside.

“We’re going to keep going with (a right tackle rotation),” he said. “How much each guy plays, we’re still figuring that stuff out, but you’ll see both guys for sure.”

3. Cairo Santos has missed at least one kick in 3 of the last 4 games, but special teams coordinator Richard Hightower isn’t worried about a prolonged slump.

Santos and the specialists worked outside Wednesday — the rest of the team practiced inside the Walter Payton Center — to get a handle on the conditions expected Sunday, when the high temperature at Soldier Field is forecast to be around 25 degrees.

Santos missed an extra-point attempt in the Dec. 4 loss to the Packers and had a 40-yard field-goal attempt defletced by Dean Lowry when the trajectory was low. Santos’ first field-goal miss of the season came in the Nov. 20 setback in Atlanta when a 56-yard attempt hit the crossbar, and he was wide on an extra-point try in the Nov. 13 home loss to the Lions.

While Santos is 22-for-26 on extra points, he has connected on 18 of 20 field-goal attempts and at 90%, he ranks eighth in the league. Hightower was asked how much feedback he gives Santos in a situation like this, understanding kickers have a deeper and more nuanced understanding of their craft than the vast majority of coaches.

“Depends on the player and how they receive feedback and how they receive coaching, which he’s really good with that,” Hightower said. “So some guys like you really involved, some guys don’t. You never want to make them worse.

“He’s been extremely reliable. There’s ebbs and flows with the season. There’s ebbs and flows in life. So you just got to rebound. He’s mentally tough.”

4. Wide receiver Chase Claypool missed his second straight practice with a knee injury, casting doubt on the chances he has of playing against the Eagles.

Tight end Trevon Wesco (calf) and running back David Montgomery (illness) also were absent. Offensive tackle Larry Borom (knee) was limited.

Getsy believes Claypool, who has played five games with the Bears since his Nov. 1 trade from the Pittsburgh Steelers, is pretty close to being fully immersed in the offense.

“I think Chase is in pretty good shape,” Getsy said. “It’s like anything. When you hear a play call and how quickly that’s absorbed, he’s probably not to where the other guys are because it’s been six months or more. But as far as knowing what to do and how to do it, he’s in pretty good shape to where he can handle most of the offense. Now, how fast that absorbs when he hears the play call, I’m sure that’s not up to the level. You’ve seen a couple of times where, ‘Nope, I’ve got to be over there instead of over there.’ But then once he gets there he’s in good shape.”

Missing time in the stretch run, of course, will make things more challenging for Claypool.



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