Bears could have nickel competition brewing between Graham, Young originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
LAKE FOREST – Nickel back was a big question mark for the Bears last season as Chicago failed to find someone who could do the job consistently at a high level.
So, the Bears went out and signed Tavon Young to a one-year contract in April. Young, 28, spent the first six seasons of his career with the Baltimore Ravens and is coming off a decent season as the Ravens' nickel.
While Young likely will enter training camp as the presumptive starting slot corner, the Bears might have a brewing competition at the nickel.
"There is some great competition right there," Bears cornerbacks coach James Rowe said Tuesday. "Some great players there. Each of them have a little bit different things that make them special, so I'm excited to see how that turns out for us."
Rowe said that there is no front-runner for the starting job at the moment.
Young had a decent 2021 campaign in which he recorded 35 tackles, two sacks, one interception, three passes defensed, and a passer rating allowed of 107.6. However, Young has a lengthy injury history. He has torn his ACL twice, missing all of the 2017 season and all but two games in 2020. He also missed all of the 2019 season due to a neck injury.
If there is a legitimate competition at nickel back, second-year cornerback Thomas Graham could be the one pushing Young for the spot.
The Oregon product spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad after opting out of the 2020 college football season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Graham eventually got his chance in Week 15 when he got the start against the Minnesota Vikings, allowing only two catches for 10 yards on four targets while recording three pass breakups.
Per Pro Football Focus, Graham played 59 coverage snaps over the Bears' final four games, allowing just five catches for 52 yards while registering a coverage grade of 90.6.
After showing starting-corner potential last season, Graham is working hard to cement his role with the Bears in new head coach Matt Eberflus' defense. He has made an impression on the Bears' staff.
"I love him, you know. He puts in extra time," Rowe said of Graham. "He comes up and meets with David Overstreet, who coaches our nickels mostly. He comes up and meets up with him every morning at 7 a.m. Very smart player. He is able to handle the workload outside and inside. He is intent on being good, and we love what we see from him so far."
During the Bears' fourth OTA practice Tuesday, Graham saw time with the first-team defense. Of course, star cornerback Jaylon Johnson ran with the second team, so take all OTA notes with a massive grain of salt. However, it is still notable that Graham ran with the ones.
Eberflus and general manager Ryan Poles are working on building a strong culture, and a key part of that is having everyone start with a clean slate and earn their spot.
Young might have started with the inside track as the starting nickel back, but don't be surprised if Graham makes this a race come training camp.