Bears hoping CB Kyler Gordon can minimize, cover up rookie mistakes

Rookie mistakes are inevitable, especially at the most complicated positions, but the best young players can minimize them.

Bears coach Matt Eberflus said he’s bracing for that turbulence with several rookies being rushed into the lineup this season, but the team believes top draft pick Kyler Gordon is smart enough to mostly avoid those errors and athletic enough to make sure no notices when he does commit one.

Every player on the field is athletic, of course. Left guard Cody Whitehair can run the 40-yard dash in five seconds, and kicker Cairo Santos managed some tackling drills just fine in a recent practice. But if Gordon is considered exceptionally athletic even among pro athletes, the Bears might have something special.

“There’s certain guys in the NFL that are another level of athlete, and those guys play better because they can take a false step here or there and still get the job done with their God-given ability,” defensive backs coach James Rowe said. “He falls in that department at times.”

Gordon will need that advantage, because he’s stepping into an incredibly difficult spot.

In case there are still any misconceptions about the nickel or slot cornerback, it must be clarified that this has become an essential position. The Colts, with Eberflus running their defense, have been using Pro Bowl pick Kenny Moore in that spot and are paying him nearly $7 million this season. He plays nearly every snap.

The position requires a player to be able to cover a speedy slot receiver or a burly tight end. The nickel has to be able to adapt quickly on a run play and can often be used as a blitzer. That’s in contrast to the much more straightforward responsibilities at outside cornerback.

In short, the nickel must be good at everything.

The Bears leaned on Duke Shelley in that role last season (he allowed 74.4% completions, per Pro Football Reference) and Buster Skrine in 2020 (78.1% completions).

The team also allowed the NFL’s highest passer rating (103.3), third-most passing touchdowns (31) and 13th-highest completion percentage (65.8), plus it had the third-fewest interceptions (eight). All of those issues flared despite the defensive backs playing behind a pass rush that was fourth in the NFL in sacks (49).

Among the glaring problems general manager Ryan Poles saw when he took the job, the secondary was an emergency. That more than justified picking Gordon at No. 39 overall and adding Penn State safety Jaquan Brisker at No. 48.

When the Bears ran their pre-draft simulations, Poles said Gordon was rarely available by the time they were up. They were enticed by his background of playing nickel at Washington and–again, the athleticism comes up–his incredible agility, developed in part by coming up in dance.

“There are certain cuts that he makes that other people, their body won’t allow them to do,” Rowe said. “He has an extreme amount of flexibility, and you can tell in his lower body he has a lot of strength from, maybe, the dancing. He’s a dynamic athlete, and some movements that he makes are just not normal movements that we see on the football field, but they help him do his job better.”

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