The Bears’ 2023 NFL season opener against the Packers was ugly. There’s no two ways around it. Execution and energy was lacking. The game plan wasn’t up to snuff. Ultimately the Bears got blown out 38-20.
It wasn’t all awful, however. There were a few bright spots, like Cairo Santos’ perfect day and the Bears seemingly finding a reliable punt returner in Trent Taylor. One of the most encouraging outcomes was how rookie running back Roschon Johnson carried himself, and the ball, in his first professional regular season game.
“I certainly like his style,” said head coach Matt Eberflus. “His style was really good, and that's what he is. He's a downhill, north guy, and he showed that yesterday. And he showed his physicality. He did that several times.”
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Johnson rushed the ball five times for 20 yards and a touchdown, and added six catches for another 35 yards. His six catches led the team and he was the only man to score in the run game. What was most important was how Johnson racked up those yards, though. He ran guys over and embraced contact. He played with an edge in the second half when the rest of the team seemed to have checked out.
The Bears have hyped Johnson’s physicality and work ethic all summer, so his performance wasn’t really surprising. The expectation was he would get the ball and do something with it. What was surprising was seeing Johnson lead all running backs with 29 snaps. Starter Khalil Herbert finished the day with 27 snaps and D’Onta Foreman brought up the rear with 21. When asked about Johnson leading the way, Eberflus said the result was a mix of Johnson getting opportunities in the fourth quarter with the game out of hand, and making the most of those opportunities to garner additional snaps.
“My objective is to win, so I’m more than blessed and more than thankful, but we’ve got work to do,” Johnson told NBC Chicago’s Mike Berman after the game.
When the Bears selected Johnson in the fourth round of this year’s the thought was he could take over as the lead back before the season ended. After his impressive Week 1, he might be in line for more snaps even sooner.
“Hopefully people can just look and see that I’m a difference maker when I’m on the field, when I’m put in, whatever the assignment that they ask me to do,” Johnson told NBC Chicago. “I think I bring a certain energy to the offense that springs everybody forward. Hopefully I can showcase that.”