A glaring weakness of the Chicago Bears last season was their secondary. After allowing Kyle Fuller and Buster Skrine to move on, they entered the 2021 season with a clear void in the boundary corner position as well as nickel corner.
As the season went on, instability came to define the position group. A combination of injuries and personnel decisions (some very questionable ones at times) significantly undermined the unit’s chances of success and led to a paltry number of interceptions.
In fact, the entire secondary only manage six interceptions in 2021, five of which came from the safety group. Only one of the team’s total came from the cornerback position, which matched the total number of interceptions from the defensive end position.
Needless to say, the team will need to improve in the secondary under new head coach Matt Eberflus who places a strong emphasis on turning the ball over.
Last season the Indianapolis Colts defense, led by Eberflus who served as their defensive coordinator, registered 19 total interceptions, eight of which came from their cornerbacks.
No doubt the skill of their unit opted a large part in that but so did the sheer number of opportunities. The Colts defense lined up in nickel formation — meaning five total defensive backs — second-most in the league at 77.2 percent. For the non-math majors like me, the Colts were in nickel (not their base defense) more than three-quarters of the time.
It goes without saying that solidifying the nickel position, as well as depth across the secondary, will be critical this offseason.
As of now, there are only seven cornerbacks under contract for the 2022 season. They are, Jaylon Johnson, Duke Shelley, Kindle Vildor, Bopete Keyes, Thomas Graham Jr., Lamar Jackson, and Michael Joseph.
Jaylon Johnson is a lead-pipe lock to start next year, but beyond that, the entire position group is up for grabs. Now you’d think Graham has a very good chance to earn himself a starting spot based on his performance in the last few games of the season, but he will have to prove he can do that for a sustained period of time to earn the trust of the new coaching staff. Vildor got an infinite number of chances, very possibly because he was a draft pick of the previous regime, as was Duke Shelley. New general manager Ryan Poles will not be encumbered by sentimentality as he did not select either player.
As you can see, the Bears — in particular Poles — will have their work cut out for them to remake the secondary, and could have a number of spots to fill. One approach could be to bring back a player from the 2021 roster who may not be under contract for 2022. Two players that fit that description who I believe are worth bringing back are Marqui Christian and Deon Bush. Christian, although listed as a safety, has the versatility to play the nickel position as well and even line up on the boundary if necessary. I believe Christian was in part, a victim of the high turnover in the secondary as the coaching staff tried to find a combination they liked. With some stability, Christian could certainly be a major contributor to the secondary.
Speaking of major contributors, there may not have been a greater super-utility player on the Bears than Bush. He played very well when called upon to play safety, and is a special teams dynamo. He does whatever the team asks, and his versatility, as with Christian, can go a long way in filling multiple needs with as few players as possible.
This will be an interesting and challenging offseason for the Bears new staff, and I think I speak for everyone when I say we are anxiously awaiting to see how it all turns out.