When Lovie Smith said Sunday that Corey Graham is a potential candidate to become the team's starting free safety, he made it clear the team feels good about its options at right cornerback because this much is sure--the Bears are not going to rob from the cornerback position to fill another need.
There is a reason why cornerbacks get drafted higher and are paid more than safeties--they're more important. Sure, the two in Tampa Two refers to the safeties but even in this scheme they are not more important than the cornerbacks. According to NFL.com, D.J. Moore was the 20th cornerback selected in the draft at No. 119 overall. That's one corner every six picks. In that same span seven safeties were chosen.
Moore, obviously, is one of the options for the team at right cornerback. But the fourth-round pick isn't at the top of the list. The leading candidate--if Graham moves to safety--is veteran Nathan Vasher. It's been assumed that Graham and Vasher will vie for the starting job at right cornerback but Smith said the Bears are intent on getting the four best defensive backs on the field. That could involve a position switch for Graham, who made nine starts last season, eight in place of Vasher and one for Charles Tillman.
"We have a lot of different options,'' Smith said. "[Tillman] is ruled out. But the rest of it, it will work itself out. We're trying to get as many athletes as we can and give ourselves as many options as possible. We're going to be fine.''
Vasher has made just 12 starts since his contract extension in June 2007. Since, he's earned $15 million and while the team recognizes injuries have played a factor in that--the torn groin muscle in 2007 and the hand injury last season--the Bears feel they're owed a return on their investment. Vasher represented the Bears in the Pro Bowl following the 2005 season and is still just 27.
"I feel he will come back strong,'' general manager Jerry Angelo said. "I felt like last year he was ready. During this time last year, during training camp, I thought he did really well. He got off to a poor start of the season in terms of making plays. I don't know what that did to his psyche one way or the other. We just didn't see the same swagger, the same ballhawk that we know and came to love when you talk about Nate.
"Do I feel that he has that? Yes. I don't see any diminishing of his skills and I feel this guy is a great competitor and his back is to the wall. I expect him to come out and give us really good football and we're going to see the guy we paid. I have a lot of confidence in Nate. Saying all that, he's got to go out and do it. He's got to do that and he knows that."
Let's run down the options in the secondary on the roster right now:
The Bears had switched Zack Bowman to safety during veteran minicamp in March but that might not be a permanent move. If they're going to move a cornerback to take over at free safety, Graham will be a more likely candidate. Stay tuned.