Chicago Bears training camp is set to start up at the end of July, and an intriguing battle to watch will be the starting corner spot opposite of Kyle Fuller.
When you’ve got that one open starting spot and have a highly-touted rookie, a former 1st round pick, a guy coming off a season in the CFL, and a guy who’s been with the team for two years, everyone has got something to prove and you’re going to get some competition. And for a team like the Bears, that are right there in the NFC North race according to the latest Illinois sports betting odds, competition is going to be a good thing.
Buster Skrine is going to be the nickel corner, so we’ll leave him out of this discussion. The next group is where it gets interesting.
Jaylon Johnson was the seventh defensive back taken in the draft, but if this year’s Madden rankings are any indication of just how well this guy is perceived around the league, this could be his job to lose (I know Madden rankings aren’t the end-all, but the dude is ranked 3rd out of all rookie defensive backs and those ranking dudes take this very seriously). He comes in with some injury concerns coming out of Utah, but other than that he’s got what you look for and it’s easy to see why the Bears picked him in the draft.
Johnson isn’t the only hungry one with something to prove on this roster though. Tre Roberson is coming to town after spending a season in the CFL in which he led the league in interceptions. He’s successfully made the switch from playing quarterback in college, to a defensive back at the “professional” level. As far as the NFL goes though, he bounced around the Vikings’ training camps and practice squads in 2016 and 2017, before being released in 2017. He needs to prove that he can get it done and training camp is where it’s going to start. He and Johnson are more or less on level playing field when it comes to experience, so it should be a good competition between those two.
Artie Burns is a different story.
He’s a guy that the Steelers just let walk this off-season after drafting him in the 1st round back in 2016. He got some significant playing time under his belt before disappearing in 2019. From 2016-2018 he appeared in 48 games, starting 31 of them. So of all the guys at this position on the roster, if anyone should have the confidence in contributing on an NFL roster, it’s Burns. He’s got more NFL experience than all other options combined here.
Experience and being able to catch on to a new NFL system during the tumultuous off-season when no one can get together for practice? That could tip the scales to Burns’ advantage.
The last guy that will be trying to prove he’s got what it takes is Kevin Toliver. It will be interesting to see how the coaching staff handles him and if they play any favorites. Toliver has been with the Bears for two years now and knows the system (again, not having a normal off-season could play to his favor), but he’s been stuck behind Amukamara and Fuller.
When Amukamara went down last year, Toliver was thrust into a starting role and didn’t do too bad with 5 tackles and a pass defended, but I still think overall talent will be hard for former undrafted defensive back to overcome when you’re comparing him to Johnson, Roberson, and Burns.
In the end, everyone’s gonna get a shot in training camp and preseason, but the bottom line is: Johnson was drafted high and has been praised for his skill for a reason, Roberson had to resort to playing in the CFL for a reason, the Steelers let their former first-round pick walk for a reason, and the Bears brought in all these other options when Toliver was already on the roster for a reason. Put all those reasons together and you’ve got Johnson sitting at the top of the defensive back pile. It’s looking like it will be his job to lose barring not being able to learn the system as quickly in the COVID era. Even if he doesn’t start the season opposite Fuller, you can expect him to at some point this season.