It doesn’t seem real for Bears safety Tashaun Gipson.
He has a chance to play with a top-tier defense. Then there’s the fact that the NFL is playing football at all right now, given the COVID-19 pandemic.
“To be honest with you, as I sit here right now, it still almost seems surreal because with so much stuff going on, bigger issues outside of here, you know, COVID and things like that,” Gipson said. “It just seems so surreal that we’re going to get back to football, the game that everybody loves.”
It was surreal two weeks ago when the Bears played a scrimmage in front of an empty Soldier Field, and it will be surreal Sunday when they take the field in an empty Ford Field in Detroit.
Gipson, a ninth-year NFL veteran, can come across as in awe of his new defensive teammates. He won a starting safety job this week and will play a huge role in the next iteration of the Chicago Bears defense.
Gipson believes he and Eddie Jackson can mesh well together at the safety positions. Gipson said Jackson elevates the play of everyone around him.
“I’ve respected his game since before I came here,” Gipson said. “Seeing him up close and personal, it's just a whole different appreciation you've got for a guy with those type of instincts and just his game overall. I think he's one of the most complete safeties in the league, if not the most complete.”
Most of the defensive cast remains the same from 2019. Gipson and rookie cornerback Jaylon Johnson will be two new faces in the secondary. Their communication with Jackson and cornerback Kyle Fuller will have to be on point against quarterback Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions.
Stafford will test the Bears secondary. While the Bears won both games against Detroit last year, Stafford didn’t play in either. He suffered a spine injury that set him out for the Lions’ final eight games of 2019.
“Matt is Matt,” Jackson said. “Before he got hurt, he was probably having one of the best seasons he's had. Him coming back this year, he's got a lot [driving him] because it feels like his season was cut short. So we know he's going to come out and give us everything he's got.”
It appears Stafford will be without top target Kenny Golladay, who is listed as doubtful with a hamstring injury. Golladay has made a living against the Bears. In six career games against the Bears, he has averaged 77.3 receiving yards per game, and has caught three touchdown passes. On Thanksgiving Day last year, he totaled 158 yards and a touchdown on four catches.
Even without Golladay, the Lions are a dangerous offense. Anytime Stafford is on the field, the Lions are a threat.
Johnson, the rookie, fully expects Stafford to come after him.
“[The Lions have] great contested catch guys,” Johnson said. “So, I mean, just trying to find a way to get the ball out, whether that’s before the catch point or right at the catch point.”
Johnson’s college coach at Utah, Kyle Whittingham, called him “the ultimate preparer.” He watches countless hours of tape of his opponents. He said he feels ready, mentally, to take his game to the NFL level.
“For me, it’s just always about trying to find certain tendencies that you can pick up on and get to make a play on,” Johnson said. “You’re not going to know the whole offense entirely, but just as long as I can find certain tendencies and certain formations in certain situations that I can possibly take advantage of, that’s my goal going into every game.”
Gipson and Johnson need to play at a high level if the 2020 Bears defense is going to be anything close to the 2018 version. This group has that potential.
Stafford will present a tough first test for the retooled secondary.