While the Chicago Bears liked what they got out of Corey Graham at corner this past year, he lined up at safety the first workout of OTAs. If he is making a permanent position switch, the secondary might be quite different. These five DBs in particular will feel the Graham domino effect.
General manager Jerry Angelo said recently that Steltz will get the first shot to start opposite Kevin Payne
, although many of the scouting reports out there believe the former LSU Tiger is better suited to play strong safety than free safety. Steltz has big shoes to fill, as Mike Brown was a leader both on and off the field and a productive player when healthy enough to suit up on Sunday. And now that Corey Graham
was getting reps with the second-team defense at free safety during the first session of OTAs, Steltz will be competing with one of the coaching staff's favorites and a veteran that has more experience than he does lining up with the starting D.
Graham admitted Wednesday that he's been a cornerback most of his life and played safety only sparingly in college, but he's got the size you look for at that position and is used to sticking his nose in there in run support.
CB Nathan Vasher
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Since Graham played fairly well this past season when Vasher was in street clothes nursing hand and thumb injuries, rampant speculation began to surface that there would be a competition between the two for the starting job at right cornerback opposite Charles Tillman
. That doesn't appear to be the case anymore, as Vasher got all the first-team reps on the first day of OTAs and looks to be operating at full strength again. The former Pro Bowler has been a tremendous disappointment since signing a $28 million contract extension two summers ago, plus he's never been a particularly good fit for the Cover 2 because he's not very big and doesn't play the run very well.
But there was a time when Tillman and Vasher formed one of the elite corner combos in the NFC when the Midway Monsters were winning back-to-back division titles in 2005-06, and this secondary will be much better if the tandem can turn back the clock and play like that again.
It was assumed that the one-time Saint was signed as a bargain-basement free agent to replace Brown at free safety, and there was even a degree of coincidence since both of them were once second-round choices out of Nebraska. But while Brown eventually developed into a playmaker and a Pro Bowler, Bullocks didn't extract much out of his myriad physical tools in New Orleans and was exposed in part because he shared the secondary with some terrible cornerbacks. Many believe he can improve in Chicago if for no other reason than a change of scenery, but Graham's shift to safety means it may be even harder for Bullocks to break into the starting lineup since he's new to the system and only here on a one-year deal.
While Bullocks likes to lay the lumber and even rubbed some of his new teammates the wrong way in veteran minicamp for being too physical in practice, his coverage instincts are questionable at best.
CB Zack Bowman
Warren Wimmer Photography
The second-year pro was only active for one contest in 2008, but he sure made it a memorable one by scoring a touchdown off a blocked punt and then coming up with his first career interception. However, Bowman was lost for the season to injured reserve immediately afterward, shutting down what could have been a promising rookie campaign and making an already-thin secondary that much thinner. Since Bowman played some safety in junior college and seems to have a nose for the football, the organization hinted during the offseason that he – not the similarly built but more experienced Graham – was a good candidate for a switch to free safety in order to potentially get him on the field.
But there was Bowman starting at left corner opposite Vasher on the first day of OTAs, and while he was only there because of injuries to Tillman and Trumaine McBride, expect him to stay at corner for now.
Still arguably the best pure athlete on the team going into his fourth season, Manning played reasonably well at free safety as a rookie during the run to Super Bowl XLI. But after blowing an assignment and giving up a long touchdown to Reggie Wayne
, the play that essentially turned the title game around, the former Abilene Christian Wildcat has been bounced from safety to corner to nickel and everywhere in between. Manning again started at free safety in the must-win season finale at Houston this past year after Brown was shelved on IR, and it didn't take long for him to surrender another bomb of a TD to Andre Johnson
Graham to safety means Manning is no longer in the mix at that crucial position, so he'll continue as the nickel back and kick returner for the foreseeable future.
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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.