There are few franchises in the NFL that take the "defense wins championships" maxim more seriously than the Chicago Bears. In the Bears' six postseason trips since the turn of the century, only one has taken place with a defensive unit ranked worse than fourth overall in points allowed, and half of Chicago's 21st-century playoff defenses have ranked No. 1 overall.
Given the Bears' failure to live up to tradition during a lackluster 2021 campaign under offensive guru Matt Nagy, it's no wonder the organization changed tact by handing the keys to the former Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus.
The hiring appears to have lit a fire under at least one budding star in Chicago's secondary.
"It's a complete reset," third-year cornerback Jaylon Johnson said Tuesday, per Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune. "Everything I've done in the past with the other coaches, with the other staff, it really doesn't mean anything. I mean, the film is not going to lie to you. But at the end of the day, they want me to show them what I can do in person."
Johnson is correct about the film. Although the Bears defense fell to pedestrian levels in 2021 -- the unit finished 22nd overall in points allowed and recorded fewer interceptions than 28 other clubs -- the former second-rounder flashed his lockdown potential and was often trusted to match up with the opposing team's top receiving threat each week.
He's also correct about the reset aspect.
As is the case with most regime changes, Eberflus and his new staff have facilitated the departure of several defenders that were recently considered mainstays by trading linebacker Khalil Mack to the Chargers in March and releasing defensive lineman Eddie Goldman shortly thereafter. Defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, a Chicago favorite since 2016, remains a free agent.
Despite the heartache fans may feel over those absences, Eberflus and Alan Williams, Chicago's new defensive coordinator who served as Eberflus' defensive backs coach in Indianapolis from 2018-21, boast the track record to inspire confidence. The Colts put a top-10 scoring defense on the field in three of Eberflus' four years in charge.
After acknowledging the blank slate for both player and coach alike, Johnson's next step is continuing to prove himself as part of the solution in the Windy City through his work ethic -- and a little dose of swagger.
"I feel as confident as ever," Johnson said. "I don't feel like there's anything I can't do."
His bravado also carries over into his mindset regarding Chicago's first two picks in the recent draft, defensive backs Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker: "I'd throw 'em in the fire if you're asking me. I mean, they're our first two draft picks. I feel like we've got to see what they can do right now. And then we can know what the attitude and what the vibe is heading into camp. If I was the coach, I wouldn't ease them into it. I would throw them out there."
Whether Eberflus adapts the suggested trial-by-fire approach or not, both Johnson and the incoming rookies will need to gel with their new coaching staff in the coming months to turn an offseason reset into a postseason return.