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.