Over the course of Jaylon Johnson’s football career, making plays has been something he has grown accustomed to.
In three years at Utah, he accumulated 102 tackles, 21 passes defended, seven interceptions and allowed just three touchdowns. He was also named an All-American in 2019 and twice named a first-team All-Pac-12 cornerback (2018-19).
Creating an impact during the course of a game is nothing new to Johnson, and the Bears are hoping their 50th overall pick in the second round can do the same for defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano’s defense.
But there is something else that Johnson has become familiar with throughout his career, and that is undergoing surgery to fix his shoulders.
Three times Johnson has had to get surgery on his shoulders — one on his left and two on his right — with the most recent surgery occurring in March to repair a torn right labrum, which Johnson played with during the majority of the 2019 season.
Although the number of surgeries may be concerning, Johnson seems to be recovering well from his latest procedure, according to Dr. Peter Millet, who performed the surgery.
Johnson’s agent, Doug Hendrickson, also sent to clubs updated scans and rehab video. Millett performed arthroscopic surgery with an open Latarjet procedure and anterior capsulorrhaphy on March 4. A recent follow-up exam with Dr. Eric Hanson raised no concerns, Millett wrote.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) April 17, 2020
Mason West, a physical therapist at Team Rehabilitation in Barrington, Ill., also detailed reasons to be optimistic that Johnson’s career won’t be significantly impacted by his past injuries.
The Latarjet procedure, which is not common among NFL players, should make it more difficult for the shoulder to dislocate.
“With the Latarjet, you are actually taking a piece of bone and a different part of the shoulder and you’re creating like a doorstop,” said West. “You are taking the bone, the ligaments, the muscles and you are jamming it in the front part of the shoulder, which should prevent the shoulder from dislocating.”
Another reason that indicates hope for Johnson’s health is simply because he is a cornerback.
Former Bears cornerback Prince Amukamara had 167 combined tackles in 44 games with the Bears — about 3.8 tackles per game. In 37 games at Utah, Johnson averaged 2.8 tackles per game. The number of tackles will obviously vary, but Johnson will take over the right corner position left by Amukamara.
Other than defensive linemen, cornerbacks — good ones at least — should expect to do the least amount of tackling on defense, while an inside linebacker or strong safety are usually the team’s leading tacklers.
“When it comes to the position he plays, yes he is going to have to stick his nose in there when he is making tackles and watch how he is coming down when he lands,” said West. “However, at least he is not like a linebacker. In terms of how they are going to constantly get that force upon their shoulders. The type of hits he [Johnson] is going to have to do, hopefully, won’t be as forceful or traumatic to that spot.”
Before the Bears drafted Johnson, the organization already had familiarity with players who had shoulder issues. Wide receiver Anthony Miller has undergone two shoulder surgeries since being drafted in the second round in 2018.
Even though Johnson and Miller both have dealt with similar injuries in the past, Johnson shouldn’t experience as many opportunities to get hurt.
“Comparing the receiver to the defensive back, the receiver doesn’t always know where the hit is coming,” West said. “On the defensive side, you have the ability to be bracing and ready for the hit because you are the one delivering it.”
Of course, it only takes one tackle, fall or hit and Johnson could be facing his fourth shoulder surgery. To prevent that from happening, West does expect the Bears to limit Johnson’s reps in training camp, especially since there will be limited time due to the uncertainty of COVID-19.
Additionally, general manager Ryan Pace did say in his Friday night teleconference that “this [torn labrum] will be something that will limit him in some of the offseason program.”
Pace also said he felt comfortable with where Johnson is medically.
If the Bears allow Johnson to gradually make strides strengthening his right shoulder, then fans shouldn’t worry about his past injuries. Johnson has a bright future and a great opportunity to be a special player for Chicago’s defense.