WESTFIELD, Ind. – He’s heard before he’s seen.
When the pads came on a few weeks ago at Bears training camp, rookie running back Roschon Johnson immediately drew attention. Any fans attending training camp in Lake Forest probably heard the crack of the pads hitting each other before they saw the running back in the No. 30 jersey.
Johnson does not shy away from contact. The way he plays, it seems as if he seeks it out.
“I’m a guy who likes to use his body as a weapon and kind of play off of that,” Johnson said this week. “That’s definitely a tool in my toolbox that I try to use every day.”
Johnson, a fourth-round draft pick out of Texas, carried the ball 12 times in last week’s win over the Tennessee Titans, his preseason NFL debut. He totaled 44 rushing yards with a long run of 24 yards.
He remains behind veteran running backs Khalil Herbert and D’Onta Foreman on the depth chart. In the NFL, though, good teams need a stable of backs at one of the most oft-injured positions in football. Any third-string running backs on the depth chart could wind up being the starter by season’s end.
During joint practices this week with the Colts in Westfield, Indiana, Johnson saw some opportunities with the first-team offense, even though Herbert and Foreman were both healthy and participating.
“He’s a downhill guy that we’re excited about,” Bears head coach Matt Eberflus said this week. “He’s got good vision, and since he’s gotten in there, we really love the style. We’re just going to keep letting that thing compete out where it belongs, and we’ll see where it goes.”
From an even-tempered Eberflus, that’s some solid praise. The fact that Eberflus is considering Johnson in the competition for snaps with Herbert and Foreman already is a good sign for Johnson. As Eberflus said, the Bears love his style. It’s as simple as that. Johnson tries to run through contact. His teammates notice it, too.
Tight end Cole Kmet said it shows up in Johnson’s ability as a pass blocker. Blocking is one of the toughest skills for rookie running backs to adjust to in the NFL. Some college running backs aren’t asked to do it as much in spread offenses. Then the NFL pass rushers are just bigger and faster than the ones players faced in college.
“He’s a downhill guy that we’re excited about. He’s got good vision, and since he’s gotten in there, we really love the style.”— Matt Eberflus, Bears head coach
Johnson prides himself in being an all-around football player. That means as a runner, as a blocker and on special teams.
“Sometimes I like to just watch other position’s [individual drills] or one-on-one drills,” Kmet said. “I was watching his pass [protection] stuff and he’ll put his helmet in there. That’s cool to see. You definitely gain some respect for those rookies that put their face mask in there and our willing to hit some guys.”
Johnson will be a key special teams player as well. For a running back, he’s a talented tackler. He showed that on kickoff coverage in college and he will likely be used in that same role by the Bears. The aforementioned blocking abilities will be a boost on kick and punt return as well.
Johnson spent his college years stuck behind All-American running back Bijan Robinson, who the Falcons drafted eighth overall. He’s used to being overlooked. But his coaches are not overlooking what he has been doing. They notice the little things he does well.
“Regardless of what string I’m taking my reps with, I try to approach it the same way,” Johnson said. “It’s a blessing, but also, I’ve got to take care of business.”