The nickel defensive back is an underrated (yet, highly important) piece of a good defense. Not just because of how often offenses are deploying three receiver sets, but also because of the versatility a defender needs to be exceptional at the position. Slot corners aren’t covering just small receivers now. Nope. Teams are using big receivers as power slot pass-catchers and in some cases moving tight ends into the spot in an attempt to create mismatches. And some offenses are even checking into run plays if they see an opportunity to leverage a lighter-than-usual box.
With that in mind, it is important for the Bears’ offseason (and preseason) workouts to spit out someone who can do it all at that spot. And at the outset, it seems like Thomas Graham Jr. and Tavon Young are best-positioned to win that battle. Even though Young wasn’t practicing, The Athletic’s Adam Jahns notes that Graham was in that top slot corner spot with the first-team defense earlier in the week.
Moreover, it seems like Graham is winning folks over at Halas Hall:
“He puts in extra time,” Bears Cornerbacks Coach James Rowe said, via The Athletic. “He comes up and meets with David Overstreet, who coaches our nickels mostly. He comes up and meets up with him every morning at 7 a.m. Very smart player. He is able to handle the workload outside and inside. He is intent on being good, and we love what we see from him so far.”
*rubs hands excitedly*
Rowe, Overstreet, and the rest of Chicago’s coaches will have their hands full molding this secondary. Last year’s defensive back play was woeful. If the poor tackling didn’t do them in, it was blown coverage assignments. It all added up into a wave of big plays sinking the Bears on a number of occasions. But with a defensive-leaning head coach, a new system, and a bunch of new coaches bringing fresh eyes on old problems, Chicago’s football team looks to be in a better spot to take on the challenges ahead.
And I’m not sure there will a more intriguing camp battle between Graham and Young.
Graham was a Day 3 pick by the previous regime, but made splash plays when given chances to play late in the season. Things were lining up for Graham to get starters reps opposite of Jaylon Johnson before the Bears took Washington cornerback Kyler Gordon with the first of their two second-round picks. But the Gordon pick puts him on the boundary, sliding Graham inside. That puts Graham against Young, who the Ravens made the NFL’s highest paid slot corner in 2019. Unfortunately, injuries in recent years kept him from reaching his full potential. But after being cut by the Ravens earlier this offseason, Young has a newfound motivational tool to push him.
In other words, we’ve got a classic camp battle brewing. Graham is playing to prove himself to a new front office and coaching staff. Meanwhile, Young wants to show he’s still got it. This is the kind of stuff worth following when camp opens up this summer.