Year in Review: Cornerbacks

The Chicago Bears have several questions these days at cornerback. Should Charles Tillman move to safety? Can Nathan Vasher get back to his old self? Will Corey Graham have a legit shot to start next year? Bear Report takes a look back at 2008 for the CBs while also looking ahead to 2009.

2008 Review
The Midway Monsters used to have one of the better cornerback combinations in the NFC with Charles Tillman on the left side and Nathan Vasher on the right, yet it's possible neither one of them will be in the starting lineup there come next season.


CB Nathan Vasher
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Tillman is still a warrior and played his heart out this year despite not one but two banged-up shoulders, but his limited ability in coverage coupled with the team's need for help at safety might mean it's time for him to make a positional switch. Vasher, on the other hand, has played in just 12 of 32 games since signing a $28 million extension before 2007, and he probably should have been benched even before moving to the injured reserve list with a recurring wrist/thumb issue. While second-year pro Corey Graham still has a long way to go, he's got the size and toughness to be a successful Cover-2 corner and outplayed Vasher – a one-time Pro Bowler – more often than not.

Sure, the defensive line didn't pressure enemy QBs very well and contributed to a pass defense ranked just 30th in the NFL, but the corners didn't cover anybody either – be it man-to-man or zone.

Inside the Numbers
Tillman finished tied for second on the team – with Brian Urlacher, no less – with 93 total tackles and Graham was fourth with 91. Give both of them credit for sticking their nose in there on running plays and helping out the front seven as much as possible, but a lot of those tackles came after easy completions on slant patterns and crossing routes. The Bears did end the year tied for third best in the league with 22 interceptions, but they also surrendered a total of 208 first downs through the air – third worst in the league.

Thumbs Up
Even though Tillman was rarely fully healthy and probably should have been on the sideline in street clothes once or twice, he suited up for all 16 games, picked off three passes, and scored the second defensive touchdown of his career. Graham recorded at least five tackles in eight straight games from Week 5 through Week 13 – Urlacher never had a streak like that longer than three games this year. Danieal Manning also deserves mention here for playing increasingly well as the nickel corner the second half of the season.

Thumbs Down
Vasher earned the nickname "The Interceptor" by picking off 13 passes his first two years in the NFL, but he has just two INTs since putting his John Hancock on that lucrative deal two Junes ago. While the Bears might be better off severing ties with their former fourth-round draft pick and moving forward with Graham, cutting Vasher now would cost the organization $7.6 million in dead cap space. Trumaine McBride came out of nowhere to start several games last season as a seventh-round rookie, but he doesn't appear to be in the team's future defensively at all right now.

2009 Preview
Head coach Lovie Smith just reshuffled his staff in order to help get back on track as an elite defensive unit, so perhaps reshuffling the secondary is next on his list.


CB Corey Graham
Matt Stockman/Getty Images

Having Tillman, Vasher, and Graham all on the field at the same time doesn't seem likely because Manning is the player ideally suited for nickel situations, meaning something has to be done and done right away. Since Mike Brown again proved to be an injury waiting to happen and unable to play a full 16-game schedule, moving Tillman to free safety might be the best way to take advantage of his considerable in-the-box talent yet hit-and-miss coverage skills. The Bears could do much worse than Graham at left corner and Vasher at right, but Graham needs to take the next step and Vasher has to recapture the magic he had earlier in his career – Zack Bowman, the rookie who starred for one game before being shelved on IR, could be in the mix, too.

This team has too many holes at other positions to justify a Day-1 draft pick at corner, so bringing in a second-tier free agent like Phillip Buchanon or Bryant McFadden might bolster the depth chart enough.

John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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