UA-59049186-1 Chicago Bears 2023 Season Preview: Defensive back - Good if it Goes

Chicago Bears 2023 Season Preview: Defensive back

Make it or break it year. [Photo: Chicago Bears]

Jaylon Johnson enters a big year in his career. It’s a contract year, he’s coming off his second year of his three-year career without an interception, he missed time last year due to injury, and he wasn’t a Ryan Poles draft pick. He’ll need a big season to prove he’s worthy of a new, big contract. 

While the interception numbers haven’t been there (he has just one in three seasons), Johnson has shown himself to be a quality cover corner. Drafted in the second round in 2020 out of Utah, Johnson also has the requisite physicality and tackling ability to play in Matt Eberflus’ defense. Thus far in his career, he’s been solid, now he needs to show he’s not easily replaceable. 

Tyrique Stevenson joins the team after being drafted in the second round this year out of Miami. Prior to two years as a Hurricane, Stevenson played at Georgia for two years. Stevenson amassed three picks during his time in college, all at Miami. His college tape shows a guy whose zone coverage skills could use some work, but who’s unafraid to lay the wood, a train that will no doubt endear him to the man behind the H.I.T.S. philosophy. Stevenson has been something of a mixed bag in the preseason, drawing some silly penalties, but also making some big plays. The latter shows a very high ceiling, the former shoes that we’ll have to endure some growing pains to get there. 

Kyler Gordon was a second-round pick out of Washington in last year’s draft and early on, things didn’t look great. Part of this was that Gordon was tasked with playing the slot, which is a more difficult assignment than playing outside. Part of this is just being a rookie. As the season progressed, so too did Gordon, and he finished his rookie campaign with three picks. Entering year two, expectations are somewhat high for the former Huskie. A trip to the Pro Bowl should not be off the table.

Terell Smith joins the Bears after being drafted in the fifth round this year out of Minnesota. Smith missed significant playing time in two of his five seasons as a Golden Gopher, in the seasons he didn’t, he had at least one pick in each one, leaving the land of 10,000 lakes with four. Smith was embroiled in a battle in camp for the second starting outside corner position with Tyrique Stevenson, a battle Stevenson has won. Smith looked quite impressive himself, however, and if the team does decide to let Jaylon Johnson walk after this season, Smith’s presence will likely be a big reason why.

One of the most underrated players in football, Eddie Jackson returns for his seventh year in Chicago. The 2017 fourth-round pick out of Alabama was a major part of the Bears’ division championship in 2018, collecting 6 interceptions and earning recognition as an All-Pro that year. After that season, Vic Fangio got hired as the head coach in Denver and Chuck Pagano took over as defensive coordinator for the Bears. One might think that a man who once coached Ed Reed would know how to use Jackson, but one would be wrong. Jackson still made the Pro Bowl in 2019, but his interception numbers fell from 6 to 2. Jackson would go the next two years without a pick until Matt Eberflus came to town and instituted a system perfectly designed to take advantage of BoJack’s ball hawking ability. Jackson had four picks in 12 games when an injury against the Jets in New York ended his season. While Jackson is approaching 30, playing in Eberflus’ system has revitalized the Bears safety and your author expects a big season. Whether or not he gets the recognition around the league that he deserves is a different matter. 

Jaquan Brisker was having a self-described All-Pro camp before an injury derailed it, but will be back week one to begin what’s, hopefully, an All-Pro season. Drafted in the second round last year out of Penn State with the pick acquired in the Khalil Mack trade, Brisker’s play as a rookie made that trade sting a little bit less. It still does sting, of course, and if you’ve already read the defensive line preview, you’ll know why. Brisker did lead the team in sacks last year, which says good things about his ability to blitz, but says many more bad things about last year’s defensive line. 

Brisker has an All-Pro ceiling and your author says it’s not a matter of if he gets there, but when. Listed at 6’1, 200, Brisker both looks and plays bigger than that. A punishing hitter, he can come in and lay the wood in the run game. Coverage was the area needing more work as he came into the league, but that improved immensely throughout the year; opposing quarterbacks must now test him at their own risk. His lone interception a year ago was a great one in the beatdown of New England, a game in which Mac Jones played some yambag Yahtzee with the rookie and don’t even try to tell me that wasn’t on purpose. This space asserts that Brisker builds on his rookie campaign and makes the Bears the team with the best safety duo in the league. 

A seventh-round pick out of Cal in last year’s draft, Elijah Hicks returns as depth at safety. Appearing in 15 games last year and starting two due to injuries elsewhere, Hicks looked at least capable when on the field. He put together a solid camp and looked fine in preseason play. Given your author’s high opinions of the Bears starting safeties (see above) and the importance of safeties in the Tampa-2, there will almost certainly be a noticeable drop-off if Hicks is pressed into action. That said, Hicks can be at least serviceable.

Whatever Elmo’s calling it nowThreads: @312sportsguy

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