5 things we heard from Chicago Bears defensive assistants, including Jaquan Brisker’s missed time and Jaylon Johnson’s takeaway hunt

The Chicago Bears will play their final preseason game Saturday against the Buffalo Bills at Soldier Field, the final August checkpoint before crossing into the regular season. Defensive assistant coaches spoke to reporters Tuesday for the first time since training camp began.

Over the last month, Bears coaches have gotten to know their units better as the team inches toward the season opener Sept. 10 against the Green Bay Packers. Here are five things we learned from the coaches.

1. Jaquan Brisker is itching to be back for Week 1.

Brisker hasn’t practiced since Aug. 4 while dealing with an undisclosed injury. It’s the second consecutive preseason the Bears safety has dealt with a significant health setback.

As a rookie in 2022, Brisker broke his right thumb in the preseason opener and needed surgery. He battled to get back for the season opener, playing through the discomfort with a brace on his hand.

Before being sidelined earlier this month, Brisker had been a presence at practice, both with his playmaking and his contagious energy.

“Jaquan was having a heck of a camp,” safeties coach Andre Curtis said. “He has gotten better at a lot of different things. His timing. His communication. His breaks were cleaner. We’re just scratching the surface on this kid. He has more to give.”

Brisker has been happy to provide the defense with his voice and enthusiasm. Even while hurt, he has been one of the loudest supporters of big plays. His animated personality on — or sometimes next to — the field is in contrast to his more subdued manner in the classroom.

“If you know Jaquan, he’s not a real vocal guy in the meetings,” Curtis said. “He talks in a lower tone. But don’t mistake his passion. He’s fiery inside. And he pushes it to the edge. He plays with a juice and energy. That’s just how he is.”

Everyone at Halas Hall seems to expect a big developmental jump from Brisker in his second season as soon as he is able to get back on the field.

2. Jaylon Johnson is making a concerted effort to become more productive in the takeaway department.

Through three NFL seasons, Johnson has only one interception — a Week 2 pick of Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow in 2021 — plus two forced fumbles and one recovery. Now in the final year of his rookie contract, Johnson has talked at length about his bid to deliver more turnovers this season.

That’s a mission supported by cornerbacks coach Jon Hoke, who is encouraging Johnson and teaching him ways to become more opportunistic.

“He has plenty of skill set to do that,” Hoke said. “He’s an instinctive football player. He understands route concepts. He really does a good job with that. Now it’s just finishing with the ball in his hands and making sure he understands that has to be a primary objective for him.”

Hoke is in his first season back with the Bears and needed time last winter and into the spring to fully familiarize himself with Johnson’s game. The quickest fix, Hoke said, is for Johnson “to turn the misses into makes” with interception opportunities that come his way.

“First of all, just understand how to catch a ball,” Hoke said. “Get your hands out in front of your eyes. It’s just basic fundamental stuff that he already knows. Now the biggest thing is just to (always) have it on your mind. It has to be present in your thought process.”

3. Defensive line coach Travis Smith was pumped to bring in a player with Yannick Ngakoue’s disposition and pass-rush production.

Smith knew Ngakoue from their time together with the Las Vegas Raiders in 2021, when the edge rusher had 10 sacks. Smith said he answered questions for Bears decision-makers about who Ngakoue is as an individual and player as they prepared to sign him.

Ngakoue has averaged 9.3 sacks per season over a seven-year career, an obvious plus for the Bears, who had 20 total sacks last season. Like coach Matt Eberflus, Smith also talked about Ngakoue playing against the run.

“It’s about the heart in here,” Smith said. “He has proved that he has constant production from a pass-rush element, no matter what team and system he has been on. He has been in multiple systems. It did not matter. The one thing is about his ability to shoot his signature rush and get to the X.

“And also he still is not just a one-trick pony. It’s playing the run, setting edges, playing violent, playing vertical and finishing on the ball in the run game.”

Ngakoue didn’t practice Monday or Tuesday, but Eberflus said he is confident Ngakoue will be good to go for Week 1, noting his conditioning and endurance are getting better.

Smith said their history together has made it easier for Ngakoue to make the quick transition to a new team because he is familiar with the terminology and techniques they use. He already is making an impact as a veteran presence in the defensive line room, along with DeMarcus Walker, by showing young players how to prepare for an opponent.

Smith hopes Ngakoue helps the retooled defensive line make a bigger impression on the field too.

“When things are happening up front, when things are violent, fast, physical up front, it kind of radiates to the rest of the defense and then it should radiate to the rest of the team, too,” Smith said. “When you’ve got big men up front who are running to the ball, who are knocking back, who are creating havoc or creating (tackles for a loss) and then also hitting the quarterback, that thing is infectious where it’ll radiate to the linebackers, to the DBs.”

4. Tremaine Edmunds tried to build chemistry as he sat out more than two weeks of practices.

Edmunds returned to practice Tuesday in a limited capacity and will begin ramping up for the season opener.

The middle linebacker’s absence wasn’t ideal given his role as the defensive leader and the fact he’s one of multiple new faces in his position group with T.J. Edwards and Noah Sewell.

But linebackers coach Dave Borgonzi said Edmunds “banked a lot of reps in OTAs” and that should help him dive right back into the defense.

“He’s been taking a lot of walk-through reps, he’s been in every meeting, he’s been engaged,” Borgonzi said. “And even though he hasn’t been on the field, the chemistry in the room with him and T.J. and Jack (Sanborn) and the guys has been great. He’s been a great leader.”

5. Dave Borgonzi touted Noah Sewell’s ‘physical talent’ but said there’s a lot of room to grow.

With Edmunds and Sanborn out at times during training camp, Sewell, a fifth-round draft pick this spring, has had plenty of opportunities to make an impression. And Borgonzi said they’re happy with where Sewell is while acknowledging he needs to make strides in coverage and playing in space.

“Noah is a physical player,” Borgonzi said. “You can really see it in the run game, how he sets edges and his tackling ability. He’s a powerful guy.

“Noah is a little bit different than some of the other guys. He’s 260 pounds. He’s a big player. He’s still developing in coverage. Just the angles he’s got to take on the ball and keep the leverage on the ball carrier in space. But Noah has a really big upside and he’s done some really good things this camp.”