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LAKE FOREST — The Bears and Vikings are currently heading in opposite directions.
Minnesota will be without its No. 1 offensive threat in Justin Jefferson on Sunday against Chicago. The Bears meanwhile are trending in the right direction to potentially have their entire starting secondary.
Kyler Gordon (hand) and Eddie Jackson (foot) were limited in practice on Wednesday and Thursday. Jaylon Johnson (hamstring) was limited on Wednesday and improved to being a full participant in Thursday’s practice.
With the Vikings being down arguably the best wide receiver in the league, the Bears’ secondary has an opportunity in this Week 6 matchup at Soldier Field to make a statement regardless of who is able to play.
Bears coach Matt Eberflus mentioned that one of the benefits of not playing an elite playmaker like Jefferson is that you don’t have to tilt the defense’s coverage to one direction and can play more basic and solid on both sides.
For Jaylon Johnson, he understands how much Jefferson means to the Vikings.
“That change a whole lot,” Jefferson said. “They already lost Dalvin Cook and he was pretty much their guy in the run game and now they lose their No. 1 target in the pass game for the last four years. So they definitely have some stepping up to do I know for the other receivers, and I’m sure they’re looking forward to the opportunity to get some targets thrown their way. Because with 18 out there, it’s a different ball game. Definitely I know they are going to come in hungry. They are going to try to establish the run I’m sure. Get out there and be physical. So we have to match that and top that actually and go out there and dominate like we know we can.”
Against the Commanders on Thursday Night Football, a depleted and young Bears secondary made key plays to help Chicago secure its first win in nearly a year. Greg Stroman Jr. intercepted quarterback Sam Howell and finished with a sack. Terell Smith forced a fumble and made the recovery.
Credit to Stroman and Smith making the most of their opportunities, but the secondary would get a significant upgrade if Gordon, Johnson and Jackson are able to play.
According to Pro Football Focus, Johnson has given up just five receptions for 73 yards and has one PBU through the first three games.
Gordon was one of the Bears’ top performers throughout training camp, but he was injured late in the third quarter in Week 1 against the Packers and was forced to go on IR.
Cornerbacks coach and passing game coordinator Jon Hoke knows the defense would get a big boost if he can return on Sunday.
“Having him back is a huge plus because he has really good experience in there, he has very good instincts as a player, he’s a physical guy, he’s a good blitzer,” Hoke said. “He has a lot of attributes that you’re looking for in that position, and he does them at a high level.”
Hoke needs to see where Gordon is at with his conditioning these next few days to be comfortable with him playing on Sunday. Hoke was impressed with Gordon’s movement skills, though, after watching him go full speed on Wednesday.
And for Jackson, Hoke likes where he is at and said the veteran safety has “been really good in the meetings.”
On Sunday, the Vikings will be brining one of the most productive passing attacks into Soldier Field through the first five weeks. Kirk Cousins leads the NFL in passing touchdowns with 13 and is second in passing yards with 1,498.
Rookie first-round pick Jordan Addison has caught 19 passes for 249 yards and three touchdowns while tight end T.J. Hockenson has added another 30 receptions for 254 yards and two touchdowns. Addison and Hockenson should be expected to do more with Jefferson out. The Bears will have to make sure they don’t allow the rest of the Vikings’ supporting cast to make their impact felt in this game.
The Bears’ secondary is getting healthy at the right time, and Johnson is looking forward to seeing what the group can do with all the starters back in the lineup.
“Shoot. That’ll bring the energy, bring the juice,” Johnson said. “I think the DBs last week started that off. I think they played a very solid game holding that down for us. So we definitely have to get back and up the energy, up the execution. Just get back what we were missing. Kyler was out there early. And then Bojack was out the next game. Just getting everybody back, we have to come back and we have to start that click. We don’t have time for any more mess-ups or anything like that. We’ve got that all out the way. We have to come back and execute at a high level.”
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