LAKE FOREST, Ill. – TheTo remake an unfinished unit, they used their top 2 draft picks.
Chicago’s secondary was among the NFL’s worst in 2021. The Bears finished last in passer rating allowed (103.3) and gave up 7.6 yards per pass attempt. They had the third-fewest interceptions (8), with five made by safety and one from cornerback.. Chicago's 31 passing touchdowns tied for second in franchise history. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the closest defender was a cornerback on 27, which was the highest number in the NFL.
With their first two picks, the Bears selected Washington cornerback and defensive backs.No. 39 and Penn State safety No. 48. The pair is in line to become the first set of rookies to start Week 1 in Chicago’s secondary since the early 1970s.
Chicago’s 11-man draft class — and undrafted free agents — melded with the veteran squad for the first time this week when OTAs began. Nothing was given to Gordon or Brisker at the beginning of practice. The rookies rotated in with the backups during Tuesday’s practice, but it might not be long until they’re given the opportunity to grab hold of the starting roles.
“Kyler’s been lighting it up the last two days,” coach Matt Eberflus said on Tuesday. “The guy’s got tremendous ball skills. He’s been playing the defense the right way, and we’re very impressed with him.”
The Bears had safety and Johnson, two of their starters, returning to the secondary for the offseason.He is hoping to get over an interception dry spell that began Dec. 29, 2019. Despite not playing up to the four-year, $58.4 million extension he signed in January 2020, Chicago’s new regime kept Jackson in the fold, banking on what Eberflus referred to as “a clean slate” to help the veteran return to form.
“I think that's probably one of my worst seasons,” Jackson said about 2021. “I gave up too many deep balls. I'm trying to get rid of that. Attention to detail, the little things that you do with your eyes. These are the little things that could be fixed.
Landing a strong safety with Brisker’s versatility should benefit Jackson. Brisker was one of two players in FBS last season to play 400 snaps at safety, 100 snaps at inside linebacker and 100 snaps at slot corner, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He also played 78 snaps as an outside linebacker.
The Bears may decide to play Jackson less often at deep safety. Brisker was a strong performer at Penn State, with 152 tackles, 7.0 tackles for loss and 19 pass breakups.
“I feel like I’m an old-school safety,” Brisker said. “I love being physical, but at the same time, I can show my versatility in the back end. I'm able to attack, cover and hit the ball. I love to tackle and take on blocks.”
Johnson is in his third year as a professional and just came off a solid season. Johnson had 46 tackles and an interception.
“It’s a complete reset,” Johnson said. “Everything I’ve done in the past with the other coaches, with the other staff, it really doesn’t mean anything too much. The film is not going to lie to you, but at the end of the day, they want me to show them what I can do in person moving forward.”
Eberflus spent the last four seasons as the’ defensive coordinator, brings a philosophy predicated on turnovers (the Colts had 33 in 2021, one shy of league-leader Dallas). Johnson and Jackson both observed that this scheme gives the defensive backs more opportunities for keeping their eyes on the quarterback while making plays on the ball.
Eberflus also has another trait: Indianapolis' nickel defense was at the second highest rate in the NFL (77.2%).
Former Ravens slot corner was acquired by the BearsFree agency. Though injuries have been prevalent throughout Young’s career, Chicago appears to be putting the pieces of the secondary together with the idea of having a veteran nickel — at least to start out.
“The nickel is probably the hardest position on the football field,” defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. “He's gotta fit like a linebacker and a safety, he's gotta cover like a corner, he's gotta have the mentality of a ‘Mike' linebacker. To have [Gordon]It's difficult for a rookie to go outside or inside. To be able to stick him in one place and let him go and develop and learn and feel comfortable, right now that's the plan.”
According to Williams, Gordon will be working as an outside corner. Former Washington standout who didn't allow a touchdown during 696 coverage snaps in college, moved to Chicago with the ability of playing inside and outside. He attributes his ability to move well to being able play multiple spots in secondary.
“The great thing about him is his movement skills are outstanding,” general manager Ryan Poles said. “He’s tough. He has a great instinct. He’s got a great feel for the game.”