Move over, Cre’Von LeBlanc. You’ve got company in the battle for the Chicago Bears’ top slot corner.
Bryce Callahan is entering his third season with the Bears and was a Week 1 starter who played 11 games in 2016 after playing just nine games (three starts) in 2015.
Let’s take a moment to recognize Callahan, a player who is coming of year in which Pro Football Focus graded him as having the most notable performance for a slot cornerback in the NFL:
“Callahan barely makes the cut as he logged exactly the minimum number of snaps in slot coverage. Perhaps benefiting from the few number of snaps, he was excellent when utilized as a slot defender as he allowed a league low 72.9 passer rating while also a league best mark of allowing one reception every 15.7 snaps in coverage. Callahan showed improvement from his rookie season recording five passes defended, up from just two, but has yet to record an interception in his young career.”
Not bad for a second-year player who was an undrafted free agent out of Rice University. But this pretty much sums up the Bears’ secondary problems, doesn’t it?
The Bears have a player who played really well in a role, but didn’t do it over the course of a full season. Stop me if you’ve heard that one before. Callahan’s superb season also leaves us wondering what the next step regarding his development looks like. Is he solely a nickel corner, or is he someone who can be moved around or even grow into a bigger role? Chicago doesn’t have too many long-term solutions in the secondary, as Marcus Cooper’s three-year free agent deal is the longest standing contract among any of the Bears’ corners.
Still, there is more to unpack. For example, it’s worth asking how much of Callahan’s success was because of limited exposure. If that’s the case, then some credit should be given to Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and secondary coach Ed Donatell for putting Callahan in the best position to help the team while also getting the most out of a young player.
On the other hand, LeBlanc was a pretty solid slot corner, too. Perhaps the Bears have something cooking in this particular area of the secondary. That would be good news given how many teams are using three-receiver sets. And if competition truly breeds excellence, then the Bears look to have a pair of budding stars at a position of growing importance.
Chicago’s cornerbacks room is crowded with a mix of young players looking to take another leap forward, veterans hoping to make good on their short-term contracts, and others simply clinging to a roster spot. Callahan is a relatively unheralded player, but he won’t be for much longer if he continues to excel in his role. If not, the secondary could be in for some ugly games.