Chicago Bears rookie RB Roschon Johnson ‘can almost be a linebacker’ on special teams

Bears drafted Johnson 115th out of Texas

LAKE FOREST – Richard Hightower knew the Bears landed a good one. The Bears’ special teams coordinator has the texts to prove it.

When the Bears selected Texas running back Roschon Johnson with the 115th overall pick in last week’s NFL Draft, Hightower received text messages from several special teams coaches across the league who were bummed they missed out on Johnson.

Johnson, the 22-year-old running back who was stuck behind All-American Bijan Robinson at Texas, appears to be the type of all-around football player that special teams coaches love. As a rookie this season, Johnson might be stuck behind veteran running backs Khalil Herbert and D’Onta Foreman on the depth chart, but that will afford him the chance to make a name for himself on special teams.

“When you see this guy play football, he is as violent as they come,” Hightower said. “He can almost be a linebacker. The way he covers some kicks are outstanding.”

The Bears have raved about Johnson since drafting him in the fourth round last week. Not just for his on-field abilities, but his demeanor and leadership off the field. Bears scout John Syty said last week that Johnson is “wired differently.” Coaches at Texas raved about his high character. Hightower said after a special teams meeting Friday during rookie minicamp, Johnson stayed a few minutes after the meeting to clean up garbage and empty water bottles.

“That just shows you that he wants things the way he wants it,” Hightower said. “He wants things tidy and he’s going to hold guys accountable. So when I saw that, that’s just who he is. He didn’t like how the room looked.”

At Texas, Johnson averaged six yards per carry last season while playing behind Robinson, who the Atlanta Falcons drafted eighth overall. Johnson ran for more than 550 yards in each of the last two seasons with just over 90 carries each season. For a backup running back coming off the bench, he was incredibly efficient.

With Robinson rushing for more than 1,100 yards during each of those two seasons, Johnson could’ve considered transferring, but that was never really top of mind for him.

“I had good coaches that told me to just keep trusting the process and just make the most out of my opportunities and somebody will see it,” Johnson said. “So I just put my trust into them and what they were telling me and just went hard at it and, ultimately, it led me here.”

Now, that process means a key role on special teams. Johnson will likely earn some chances at running back this season. But unless Herbert or Foreman goes down with an injury – which is entirely possible at the brutal running back position – those chances might be limited. Special teams is an area where Johnson can make a name for himself while he waits his turn at running back.

Johnson has experience as a blocker on kick return and as a tackler in kick coverage.

“He’s naturally talented, big, strong, physical, he caught the ball well,” Hightower said. “That’s why we like him a lot. He can play kickoff return, he can play upback [on punts].”

Johnson will likely be competing with Trestan Ebner, a sixth-round pick last year, and Travis Homer, a free agent addition, for a roster spot at the running back position. Homer is another player who is considered a special teams ace. Ebner returned 10 kickoffs last season, but otherwise was used sparingly.

As a running back, Johnson is a physical runner who tries to run through tackles, and broke many of them in college. The way he described it, Johnson uses his “body as a weapon” when he runs. He brings that same physicality to special teams.

“We like to have guys who can do as many different things as possible,” offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said. “And so he really gives us a lot of really cool flexibility, too. He’s a guy who doesn’t really get fazed.”

Transactions: The Bears are expected to sign tight end Stephen Carlson, according to a report from the NFL Network. Carlson worked out with the team at rookie minicamp this weekend. He spent three seasons with the Browns from 2019-21, then missed most of last season with a torn ACL. He has played in 25 career NFL games and caught six passes.

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for the Shaw Local News Network. He has covered the Bears since 2020. Prior to writing about the Bears, he covered high school sports for the Northwest Herald and contributed to Friday Night Drive. Sean joined Shaw Media in 2016.