The Chicago Bears remade their secondary in the space of one off-season. That isn’t easy to pull off, but it seems to have happened. Not only did they add 2nd round picks Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker, but they also secured quality veterans like Tavon Young and Dane Cruikshank on affordable deals. Such an influx of new names has made it easy to forget others were already on the roster hoping to compete—somebody like Thomas Graham.
The former 6th round pick had a frustrating rookie season in 2021. He didn’t play a single defensive snap until late December despite the Bears secondary having severe problems at cornerback. Then in the only two games where he saw serious action, he delivered four pass defenses and 11 tackles. It was difficult to understand why the coaching staff didn’t give him more opportunities. Now, after seeing so many new faces stack the cornerback room, some would think he’s been buried.
They would be wrong.
Adam Jahns of The Athletic caught up with new secondary coach James Rowe, and he delivered a surprising revelation. Graham has made a significant impression on him and the rest of the coaching staff through the first series of team practices. The 23-year-old is obsessively working on his game and is pestering his position coach every chance he gets. Everything points to the young man pushing for that starting nickel job.
Graham, a sixth-round pick last year who opted out of his final season at Oregon because of the pandemic, is winning over the staff.
“He puts in extra time,” Rowe said. “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.”
Once the draft concluded, most figured they had the starting secondary penciled in—Gordon and Jaylon Johnson at outside corner with Brisker and Eddie Jackson at safety. Young would be the obvious choice for nickel, given his experience and success in Baltimore. Now it appears those plans will be put on hold. Graham has no intention of going down without a fight, and the coaches seem eager to let him.
Thomas Graham Jr. would be a great success story.
Here’s a young man who was carving out a standout career at Oregon. Then the pandemic hit. He opted out to avoid any health risks, which likely caused his fall in the 2021 draft. Had he finished his college career, it isn’t hard to imagine him going much higher than he did. Now the journey has taken another turn when the regime that drafted him got fired after his first season. Nothing comes easy.
Now he must work twice as hard to win over a new coaching staff who run a defensive scheme completely different from the one he was drafted to play in. Yet despite all those obstacles, he’s making things happen. Thomas Graham is already a fun story. He has a chance to become a great one if he can somehow emerge from training camp as their starting nickel cornerback.
If nothing else, the next few months just got more interesting.
Camp begins in July, and the preseason will follow in August. That should make for a lengthy battleground between Graham and Young. It feels close to a toss-up at this point.