Matchup vs. Deebo gives Johnson chance to make loud statement originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
LAKE FOREST – Jaylon Johnson, like many around Halas Hall, feels like people are sleeping on the Bears entering the 2022 season. That's expected for a team in Year 0 of a complete rebuild.
But Johnson and the Bears get a chance to send a message in Week 1 when they welcome the San Francisco 49ers to Soldier Field.
Johnson is entering his third NFL season with a list of goals and things to prove. At the top of that checklist is putting himself in the "best cornerbacks in the NFL" conversation.
The Utah product has had a solid start to his career, but he knows to prove he's one of the best, he'll have to do it against the best.
Enter: Deebo Samuel.
The 49ers' star receiver is coming off a monster season in which he caught 77 passes for 1,405 yards and six touchdowns while rushing for 365 yards and eight touchdowns.
That production put Samuel on the list of top receivers in the NFL and got him a three-year contract extension worth $58.1 million in guarantees.
Johnson knows he can open a lot of eyes when he goes up against Samuel on Sunday.
"Oh, 100 percent," Johnson said Monday when asked if he has extra motivation facing a guy like Samuel. "I mean, he just got paid. Everybody looks at him as that top five. So, I mean I feel like people look at me as that top guy. So, to go against him and then showcase what I can do is another step in the right direction for me."
Samuel had a monster game against the Bears in Week 8 last season. The South Carolina product caught six passes for 171 yards in the 49ers' 33-22 win. Most of those yards were a product of Samuel's speed and vision after the catch, something Johnson knows he and the Bears must contain Sunday.
"I would just say after the catch. I feel like a lot of his stuff is YAC yards," Johnson said. "With his being turning into a running back after he catches the ball. We all know what he can do after he catches the ball, but I mean definitely a dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands."
Johnson said he'd like to shadow Samuel but will do whatever head coach Matt Eberflus and defensive coordinator Alan Williams ask him to do Sunday.
Complicating the Bears' game plan is second-year quarterback Trey Lance. The North Dakota State product made just two starts last season in place of an injured Jimmy Garoppolo but now enters his sophomore season as the 49ers' unquestioned starter.
Lance's athleticism and raw talent showed up in blips last season, but Johnson is focused more on head coach Kyle Shanahan's system than Lance's ability.
"I mean, you already said it, really, having limited film with him not having old film," Johnson said about the challenge of preparing for Lance. "But really just trying to find certain tendencies. There's not too much you can do, just try to go find old tape from Kyle Shanahan because he's the one that's going to be calling plays, so just try to find some tendencies from his standpoint and then really just try to go out there and make adjustments on the field.
"A young guy, he definitely has a strong arm," Johnson later said of Lance. "He can hurt us in the run game, but he's still got to prove himself to me."
Sunday's visit from the 49ers will provide the Bears with an early measuring-stick game. The 49ers have gone to the NFC Championship Game in two of the last three seasons and are viewed around the league as an organization to emulate.
From Samuel to Trent Williams, Nick Bosa, George Kittle, and Fred Warner, the 49ers have blue-chip talent across the roster. The Week 1 tilt will give Johnson and the Bears a chance to see where they stand compared to the winning machine built by Shanahan and general manager John Lynch in the Bay.
It's a challenge Johnson is looking forward to, knowing he has a chance to make a loud statement about his place in the NFL.
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