Chicago Sun-Times

Safety net: Numbers show Graham was in on most plays in '08

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The Bears launched into their latest effort to create a free safety on Wednesday when Corey Graham was officially moved to the position.

New defensive backs coach Jon Hoke pointed out that Graham has some history to draw on in making the switch from cornerback. He played free safety as a senior in high school and then spent two games there during his career at New Hampshire. That's only a little more history than say Chris Chandler's experience as a Bears quarterback in the earlier portions of this decade. Hey, he did hit Dez White for that 76-yard bomb of a touchdown in the 2002 game at Carolina.

"I was pretty good at it, to be honest,'' Graham said, recalling the good ol' days. "So I've just got to get back used to it. I think the more reps I get, the better I'll get at it.''

Graham seems like a logical fit when you consider he's got the range and coverage skills the Bears have lacked at free safety for some time. That won't be an issue and the club essentially operated with two strong safeties last season using the departed Mike Brown and Kevin Payne.

Then we came on something else that might have caught the Bears' attention when considering this switch--Graham was far and away the most involved defensive player when it came to plays made per snap on the field. Sure, there was reason to have concern with some of his work filling in for Nathan Vasher at right cornerback last season, but Graham always seemed to be involved. These numbers support that. Take a look at the club's top six leading tacklers from 2008:

WLB Lance Briggs--136 tackles, 1,108 snaps

SS/FS Kevin Payne--129 tackles, 1,101 snaps

MLB Brian Urlacher--107 tackles, 1,110 snaps

FS/SS Mike Brown--101 tackles, 924 snaps

CB Corey Graham--93 tackles, 714 snaps

CB Charles Tillman--91 tackles, 948 snaps

Briggs, the leading tackler, made a stop every 8.15 snaps he was on the field (which was all but three of the plays over the course of the season). Graham produced 43 less tackles, but was credited with one for every 7.68 snaps he was on the field. Tackles are a terribly subjective statistic, but at the minimum it shows Graham had a knack for being around the ball and was happy to pitch in for run support. It also could be a sign opposing quarterbacks were trying to work on him.

"He's done it before, he did it in college so he has a background and we're just taking him to see what he's got,'' Hoke said. "We'll see what he looks like back there. It's a transition obviously because you see everything from outside in to inside out, but we just want to see athletically how does he fit in there, what his instincts are, how much recall he has. Obviously, he has to learn but you'll see certain things along the way that will help you make that decision."

Graham didn't get a look with the first team. Craig Steltz held that role as he ran alongside Payne. But Lovie Smith has talked about getting the best athletes on the field and if the club is confident Vasher or rookie fourth-round pick D.J. Moore can nail down the job at right cornerback, trying Graham elsewhere is logical. The only thing better than starting him now would have been moving him before the mid-March minicamp.

There is work to be done. The technique in man-to-man coverage is different than what the team uses on the outside at cornerback. Graham has to have a better understanding of what everyone around him is doing playing in the middle of the field. It's about instincts and being able to diagnose.

"I don't know how long it will take to adjust,'' he said. "It just takes live reps. Today was pretty much the first live reps I got at it. I catch on to stuff pretty quick. I think after a few days at it I'll catch on to it. Once I start to learn what I am doing, I'll play faster.''

Check back with us Thursday when we dive into a Q&A in Four Down Territory and more.

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What is Corey's contract situation with the Bears and who is his agent?

I don't know if it will work on the field, but this move looks good from a couple ways off the field.

First consider that first team or not, Graham was having success at cornerback. It is fair to say that he had a bird in hand at that position. Also consider that a corner usually makes more money than a safety. And yet he agreed to try a new position.

I think this tells us several things.

1. Corey Graham is a team first player.
2. Lovie Smith is a persuasive coach who isn't afraid to think outside the box. His players trust him.
3. There is a level of trust between the players and management on the Bears. Corey Graham is trusting them to keep him as a corner if the safety thing fizzles and to pay him fairly if it works.

To me those are healthy characteristics to see as a part of the Bears organization in a sometimes cut-throat business like the NFL.

Good Move, Lovie!! And good article, Brad! I never understood all this uncertainty the media was maintaining over Graham's play last season as he looked to me to be a great complement to Peanut as an outside corner. To any of us fans watching the game, it wasn't just that Corey had the size and speed to be a decent corner, he had the awareness to be stout in run support as well... he broke up passes(!)... he would provide shut-down corner calibre coverage on wideouts. Peanut is still our best corner, no doubt... but all season I was envisioning what this secondary would look like if we could get a healthy Vasher, Graham and Peanut on the field at the same time, and have Vasher return to the slot where he excelled in his rookie season.

Most of all I hope this means Craig Steltz (Archuleta II, nuff said) won't see the light of day. Obviously as my moniker suggests, I still can't believe Jerry Angelo intimated "How can I trust Mike Brown?" after the season... when the guy just played 15 strong games for you Jerry and has been the unequivocal vocal leader of the Bears D since day 1! Even crazier was his statement that Steltz would one day be a starter. I can't believe this... it almost makes me think this guy doesn't know safeties....

I mean c'mon Brad! Help me out here... Let's stroll down memory lane for a bit... He runs Tony Parrish out of town (A couple of Pro Bowls and 2 dozen interceptions later, yeah that was a GREAT MOVE, vomit)... Drafts Todd JOHNSON!... Drafts Danielle Manning who couldn't hit sand if he fell off a camel... Signs Archuleta.... TRADES away Chris Harris for NOTHING... and then chooses to let Mike Brown, THE CONSUMMATE CHICAGO BEAR OF THIS ERA... FINISH HIS CAREER ELSEWHERE... what's this guy thinking? Saying Steltz'll be a starter is just madness.... Glad to hear they're putting Graham at FS, at least Lovie and Co. aren't making the same mistakes Angelo has been making...

Now all they gotta do is bench Manning and they'll be all right... Imagine this... Peanut (CB), Payne(SS), Graham(FS), Vasher (CB) and DJ Moore (Nickel)--with Bowman or somebody coming in in the Dime-- as our starting secondary... Now that sounds like an NFL secondary to mee... At least that's the way it's gonna go when I fire up Madden tonight!

maybe opponents pass more to Graham's side that Peanut's? anyone has any stats on where the opponents passes fall?

I don't like the way the Bears grade on tackles anyway. Giving a guy credit just because he's around the ball is askewed as giving my coworkers a promotion because I did a great job. Since so many plays ended up down field of course a DB who played a lot would get the credit that the Bears like to give. When they grade like other teams then I will give them that benefit of having a tackling machine out there.

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This page contains a single entry by Brad Biggs published on May 20, 2009 9:13 PM.

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