How Jaylon Johnson went from HITS doubter to disciple

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When Alan Williams first spoke about how Matt Eberflus was going to install the H.I.T.S. principles as the pillars of the new Bears program, he was frank in saying that there wouldn’t be 100% buy-in. Williams foresaw bumps in the road. He knows that H.I.T.S. is not for everyone, so he expected some pushback from some players.

On Tuesday, Jaylon Johnson came forward as someone who wasn’t sold on H.I.T.S. at first.

“I didn’t buy in right away,” Johnson said. “It was just something that I wasn’t familiar with, something I wasn’t used to doing, so naturally there’s going to be some back-and-forth.”

It didn’t take long for Johnson to realize how serious H.I.T.S. is to the coaching staff though. The coaches didn’t have to sell the system to the players, it just became clear it was the H.I.T.S. way or the highway.

“That’s all we really preach,” Johnson said. “That’s all we really talk about, is the H.I.T.S. principle.

“You’re going to buy into it or you’re not. And I felt like at the end of the day, if you don’t buy into it, you’re not going to play, so I mean I felt like it wasn’t too much to sell.”

Sam Mustipher is a guy who isn’t known for his natural talents like Johnson. As an undrafted free agent, Mustipher is used to fighting for every opportunity in the NFL. He’s been playing with a H.I.T.S. mentality for years, and yet even he had to adjust to Eberflus’ level of expectations. The biggest eye-opener for Mustipher came after the Chiefs game.

“I had loafs on the sheet,” Mustipher said. “That’s something I’m not used to. I went back throughout the week, like, ‘shoot, I got to practice harder.’”

Now, H.I.T.S. is becoming second nature to Johnson. He’s taking it upon himself as a leader to push himself and his teammates to uphold that standard.

“We joke around with it, but one of our quotes that we said Shakespeare came up with is, ‘Thou who runneth to the ball, good things shall happen.’ So I mean, just things like that. Just really kinda seeing the bright side of running. It’s not just, ‘Oh you guys just run to the ball, just because we say you guys run to the ball.’ It’s some rhyme and reason to why we do it. Once we see good things happen from running to the ball, then it  gives us more confidence to push ourselves to really run to the ball, because you never really know what could happen.”

Johnson was the beneficiary of running to the ball in practice on Tuesday. When a ball bounced off Darnell Mooney’s hands, he was right in place to come away with the interception. Kyler Gordon picked a ball off in a similar fashion. Looking back to last Thursday’s preseason game, the Bears were able to score a special teams touchdown simply because three Bears swarmed a muffed punt, with no Seahawks in sight.

That’s the stuff that shows players, yes, all this running around leads to real results. In turn, the dedication to H.I.T.S. is redoubled in practice.

“When Khyiris Tonga got the interception [in practice], just like things like that, like nobody would have ran all the way to the end zone, finishing,” said Johnson. “As fun as that seems, that’s a lot of energy to do. But it’s just like that muscle memory of catch the ball and run. Everything that we’re doing is ball here, run. Ball here, run. Everything we’re doing is just running to the ball. I mean, that quote kind of funny but it’s real. When you really run to the ball, you can get tipped a pass, you can get a fumble because you can never know what can really go on in a game.”

Mustipher sees the benefits of H.I.T.S. on offense from their preseason work, too, notably in their first play against the Seahawks.

“The tight end screen to Cole Kmet, when Cole is on the ground, there’s nothing but white jerseys around him,” Mustipher said. “That’s the H.I.T.S. principle. How that comes to fruition, now Cole knows, ‘No matter where I am on the field, all my guys are going to be there for me. So I can run harder, I can fight for those extra yards.’ It’s cool things like that. To see it come to fruition is nice.”

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