Player to Watch: Todd Johnson

Todd Johnson didn't play a snap for the Bears during his rookie season, but the safety could prove to be a valuable member of the 2004 squad.

For those of you that don't remember Johnson, he was first of two fourth-round picks for the Bears last year. The 100th overall choice was one of four players out of Florida selected by Chicago in 2003.

The 6-foot-1, 200 pounder earned him a all-SEC honors three times and built a reputation for being a hitter, but it was a blindsided shot on punt coverage that ended his rookie campaign before it began.

A broken jaw suffered in the preseason opener sidelined Johnson for the remainder of the season. In truth, Johnson probably could have played in the second half of the season. However the Bears couldn't afford to let an injured rookie eat up a roster spot until he was ready to play, which led to Johnson being placed on Injured Reserved.

Despite having a close friend on the team in Rex Grossman and two other Gators (Tron LaFavor and Ian Scott) in his draft class, at times Johnson felt like an outsider in the locker room.

"Especially being a rookie and not knowing the guys. It was definitely a unique situation and I just tried to make the best of it," Johnson said.

With a wired jaw his diet was obviously limited and as a result Johnson lost 10 pounds. Putting the weight back on wasn't difficult, but doing it the right way turned into another story.

"The strength was what was hard to get back just because I could get the weight back, but it wasn't good muscle," Johnson said.

Over the course of mini-camps and "Organized Team Activities" Johnson has been working at free safety. With Mike Brown entrenched as the starter a move to strong safety could benefit Johnson, a position he also played at Florida.

Players know that moving up the depth chart is difficult, especially when the team hasn't had a padded practice. That doesn't mean there isn't pressure to perform on a daily basis. Johnson has stressed fundamentals to shake the rust off his game, but knows there are no excuses with a new coaching staff.

"We're always being evaluated and you've got to come out here and perform," Johnson said. "If you have an opportunity to make plays you have to make them. They look at that stuff everyday, so when you have a bad day you're hoping to come back the next day and make some big plays."

At this point the Bears seem content to let Bobby Gray and Mike Green compete for the strong safety role. Don't be surprised to see Johnson work at both safety positions in Bourbonnais, as he brings the physical nature Gray is known for, but with better hands.

Healthy again, Johnson has lived up to his reputation as a hitter during off-season workouts. After laying out Marty Booker and David Terrell, Johnson plans on saving the punishment for his opponents.

"We were just going up for the ball and I don't think we saw each other and it was just a bad collision that you don't see a lot (in mini-camp)."

"You have to protect your teammates and it's hard to pull up sometimes, but we're not out here to hurt each other. We're out here to get better as a team."

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