The Chicago Bears have had much success with rookie defensive backs since drafting Mike Brown, one of the best safeties in team history, in the second round in 2000.
Charles Tillman (2003), Nathan Washer (2004), Chris Harris (2005), Kyle Fuller (2014), Adrian Amos (2015), Eddie Jackson (2017) and Jaylon Johnson (2020) all stepped down during their first season And started a successful career. But you have to go back to 1971 to find a Bears draft that made two Week 1 rookie starts in the secondary: cornerback Charlie Ford and free safety Jerry Moore.
This year was planned after first-year general manager Ryan Poles used two second-round picks on the defensive back: Washington cornerback Kyler Gordon and Penn State’s strong defense Jaken Brisker. They are joining defending coach Matt Eberfluss during a rookie minicamp at Halas Hall this weekend, and the basics of the plan will allow them to make a quick turnaround when the draft class joins the Giants in the off-season schedule.
Nothing will be awarded to draft picks, but the depth chart is thin in each position. And when selecting a defensive back that didn’t address the obvious offensive needs on the line and at wide receiver, the Poles matched with value in adding Gordon and Brisker.
Even with one of the best passes in the league in 2021, the Bears struggled hard in the secondary, allowing 7.6 yards per pass attempt on the 27th. The quarterback had a 103.3 passer rating compared to the Bears, the worst statistic in the NFL.
Gordon, drawn with the 39th pick, and Brisker, the 48th pick, visited Halas Hall together for the first time before the draft, beginning a relationship that has grown over the past week.
“It’s been great,” Brisker said. “You know, just talking to him, making sure we’ve got the playbook and things like that, just making sure I have chemistry with my teammates. … Making sure we’re both comfortable and We can play fast on the field. And then off the field as well because we have a good relationship.”
Brisker has an intriguing combination of size — 6-foot-1, 199 pounds — with the ability to go and kill with a personality that can help him quickly develop into a leader.
Gordon left practice early Friday with cramps but returned on Saturday. In addition to learning the terminology used by the coaching staff, rookies need to leave Sunday with a basic understanding of the playbook as well as an understanding of the techniques they will be asked to use.
Jackson, free defense and a holdover who should have been in line for an initial job, described the new defense as “simple”.
“It’s not too many eyes here, there are eyes,” Jackson said. “You just watch what’s in front of you and play.”
That doesn’t mean it will be easy for rookies to adjust to, but it isn’t as complicated as the Bears did under previous defensive coordinators Vic Fangio, Chuck Pagano and Sean Desai.
Bears will have more defined coverage with base sights, fundamental rules that apply, alley fits for safety and a clearer understanding of where help and leverage are for cornerbacks. It’s not overly complicated and it doesn’t change much with pace or movement by the offense, which is huge for a lot of teams today. Bears can maintain the integrity of their defenses without reacting to movement.
Aberfluss and defensive coordinator Alan Williams will use a late rotation with the defensive back—which the Bears didn’t do much when they played Lowie Smith’s version of the Tampa-2—but not as much as the team had done over the years. .
The Bears have a new candidate to play Nickel cornerback after signing former Baltimore Raven Tavan Young to a one-year, $1.365 million contract. Young, 28, played well for the Ravens, but missed 15 games in 2020 due to injury and was sidelined for the entire 2017 and 2019 seasons with injuries, so sustainability is a valid question.
“We’re still working through it,” Eberfluss said when asked about Young’s fit in the plan.
It is also worth considering which side the cornerbacks will play. Johnson spent much of the last two years on the right when he was not matching a typical wide receiver. He could have been moved to the left as Gordon was playing on the right on Friday. But it’s all a work in progress for Aberfluss and Williams.
“The left (cornerback) is where the ball goes that way,” Eberfluss said when asked about his cornerback’s side-picking strategy. “But if you do the stats, I don’t know if that’s true because I’ve seen it so many times. We’ll figure it all out as we go. It’s an OTA, mandatory minicamp and then training camp all the way through The process is going to happen.”
If Gordon and Brisker do a good job of processing what they’re being trained for and turning a profit, they’ll certainly be in the mix when judgment time comes in late August and early September.
“I watch the NFL all the time and I’m constantly someone who’s looking for improvement,” said Gordon, who didn’t allow touchdown receptions with the Huskies the past two seasons. “I see, what can I do to get better? So when I’m watching NFL games, I’m taking pieces from the game. If they’re doing well — or if they’re doing bad, I I’m not going to do that. Just learning constantly.”
A weekend introduction to the defense is the first step toward something the Bears haven’t seen in more than 50 seasons.