Chicago Sun-Times

Safety patrol: Corey Graham's move to free safety has begun

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There is a newcomer to the mix at free safety and it would not be a surprise if he quickly becomes a favorite to lock down the job.

As Lovie Smith suggested at the end of the rookie minicamp earlier this month, Corey Graham will get a look at the position.

He has been lining up at free safety at the start of today's first OTA at Halas Hall. The move signals another significant development. It means the Bears have confidence that former Pro Bowl right cornerback Nathan Vasher will rebound to form or rookie fourth-round pick D.J. Moore will quickly be ready for the job.

Graham made nine starts at right cornerback last season after injuries derailed Vasher for a second consecutive season. Graham finished fifth on the team in tackles with 93, two ahead of left cornerback Charles Tillman, and had one interception and six pass deflections. The position has been under scrutiny all offseason as the Bears look to move forward from the Mike Brown era. The Bears drafted Oregon State's Al Afalava in the sixth round but most project him as a strong safety and that is where the Bears will start him. Asked specifically about free safety at the conclusion of the rookie minicamp, Smith rattled off the names of every safety on the roster. Then he said, "Look at other players. We have Corey Graham.''

"We have a lot of different options,'' Smith added. ``You can print [Tillman] is ruled out. But the rest of it, you know, 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.''

Graham to safety is something the Bears experimented with briefly at the end of his rookie season in 2007 when injuries had wiped out the depth chart. He's been solid in run support as a cornerback and that is certainly a big responsibility at safety. What the Bears have really lacked for some time is a player with range and Graham would provide that. Also in the mix will be free-agent pickup Josh Bullocks. Even if Afalava is an option, his transition will have to wait for training camp. He will miss the bulk of OTA's because he is not allowed to show up until after Oregon State's graduation--June 13. The Bears will have four OTA dates between then and the conclusion of the voluntary offseason workout program June 18.

What cannot be understated is the possible re-emergence of Vasher. He's pocketed more than $15 million since signing his contract extension nearly two years ago and has appeared in only 12 games he last two seasons combined. Vasher had a groin muscle tear in 2007 and then missed portions of last season with a hand injury. He struggled at times before the injury.

"I feel he will come back strong," general manager Jerry Angelo said earlier this month. "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."

Pushing Vasher will certainly be Moore, who showed no lack of confidence at rookie minicamp. He's undersized at 5-9, an inch shorter than the club lists Vasher, but he has long arms and as the scouts say, he plays taller than he is. Angelo said Moore has the best ball skills he's seen in a college cornerback since Vasher.

*** As expected, free-agent linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa is observing practice and is talking with coach Lovie Smith on the field. He'll likely meet with the coaching staff and club officials after practice is over. It's not known if the Bears plan to give him a physical but if they are going to talk contract with him, you can bet that is in order.

*** Tommie Harris, Marcus Harrison, Desmond Clark, Joey LaRocque and Hunter Hillenmeyer are all sidelined.

*** We'll check back with more OTA news and observations after practice is over.

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12 Comments

I really like this move with Corey Graham at free safety. If Vasher can return to form or if rookie Moore looks great, then we have depth at what looked like a weakness before now. With all of the battles at safety, it should prove to be a strength after training camp.

I am so excited about the upcoming season. I hope Bennett and Iglesias excell so we do not have to sign a fellon or washed up receiver like last year.

Also, what a shock Tommie Harris not practicing? I hope Jarron Gilbert makes his presence felt at these OTA's.

GOOOOOO BEARS.

Is it me or does Jay Cutler look a little fat? And why is Tommie Harris always sidelined with an injury despite being off for the last 5 months? Why would the Bears pay Pisa good money when he would only be on the field for 2 downs? Why start Afalava at Strong safety when you really, really, really, really, want him to succeed at free safety? Is it me or do the bears have like 12 players who dont have a position? Why on Earth didnt the Bears sign Torry Holt? And why dont the Bears have cheerleaders? Ive never seen Lovie Smith ever address a player on the sideline other than Devin Hester after a kick return for a td.

Another thing that might help Vasher is slimming down a bit. He bulked up prior to last season, and I think it hurt his quickness. He looked a lot bigger and stiffer in the upper body last year when he did play.

I like the idea of Graham working at free safety, but I am concerned that we will be too lean at CB if Vasher falters. Bowman has potential, but counting on him to be healthy is a reach. He was coming off a serious leg injury when he was drafted, and he tore up his arm in his only NFL game.

If it works out, we would become extremely versatile in the defensive backfield. Graham can step into the slot and cover, or jump up to cover for a blitzing DB. Manning is probably our best blitzer on the field, and having a safety who can legitimately cover a WR in 3 WR sets is very valuable. We know Graham can do that. It should cause some issues with protections for our opponents. Payne should also be free to blitz more, as Graham has a lot of range in coverage, so even if we go Cover 3 with linebackers in zone/man underneath, we should be in a better position to prevent big plays.

Here's to hoping....

I think it was John Madden who said when you have 2 QB's who can start for you, it means you don't have a number 1. That's the sense I get with the safety situation. There are 6 safeties trying out for 2 positions (not including Dmanning) which means there are no true starters at SS or FS. I don't care what they say about Payne being a starter, they have 3 other players fighting for his spot in Earl, Steltz and Afalava when he shows up. It will be an interesting off season.

ahhh....wel looks leik ia m WRITE again....i told you loosers it would be tillman or grahm at saftie ans waht do you now? man i am awlays right. but waht tdo you loosers excpect. i called it sense i am always right ans i only give facts. i bet you wish you could be ME!!!

but you gays noe me er, you dont now me...we never met! (its you rold buddy. im undercover sense brando hurts my felings.)

ps i was in teh narines! in teh cops! show me some rspect!

Thanks for the reporting, Brad! This move with Graham makes me think we might actually go into the season with the FS situation covered with something a little stronger than a band-aid -- great news! W/this switch & if they can pull in Pisa this defense should be much better equipped to handle some of the areas they struggled with last year. I'm getting more excited about this next season with every offseason move they've made so far!

I know this question probably comes up every single time there's a practice, and the Bears are really tight-lipped about it, but what the eff is up with Tommie? Is it just a given at this point that he won't practice because they have to save every last one of his rare healthy reps for games? There was that chatter at the end of the season about him working with Sapp this offseason -- has that been happening? Is he *still* recovering and they're just holding him out of these fairly meaningless practices so he'll be as close to %100 as possible by the time actual camp rolls around? Is it a big deal at all that he's not practicing today? Is there any indication people in the organization are starting to think they might have overpaid for him? Is it unrealistic to still be hoping we might see him return to anything like his 2006 level? Do you have any more insight on the Tommie Harris situation, Brad? Thanks.

Let's face it: Tommie Harris will never stay on the field for 16 games. And even when he does play, he is no help. The smart thing to do is to dangle him in front of Arizona in return for Boldin. They're just dumb enough to fall for it.

Q- Are you menstruating today? Did you just ask if Cutler looks FAT? Relax, it's the first OTA's.

PS- Virginia McKaskey axed the cheerleaders after the Superbowl season in '85. Apparently, she didn't like them. Are you planning on trying out if they reinstate them? Better lose the 'tude. That'll never fly...

Although it's disappointing to see Harris sit out these practices, I think you have to give the guy as much rest as humanly possible until training camp starts. A Harris at 80% is still better than 90% of the DT's in the league. Go check his stats- despite a lack of "big" plays last season, stat-wise he was pretty consistent with his performance in the past. Keeping in mind, it usually takes about two years to fully recover from any MCL or ACL injury.

Brad,

Can you tell me what Corey's time in the 40 yard dash is?

I'd dig me some Bear cheerleaders.

Tommy Harris is frustrating. You see glimpses of just how filthy he can be. Remember the season opener in San Diego a couple years ago when he beat the snap. All you could see on replay was an inconclusive blur. It was awesome. But you can't count on him being there. You can count on him missing 70% of practice. When he does practice you can expect 'limited participation'.

I hope one of our DTs step up. Better yet, draft or invest in a new one who is more reliable. It seems Tommys' best days are behind him. My expectations are low.

Moving Graham to free safety will hopefully be a big improvement at that position, but this could be a fool's errand, to butcher the saying: "Tommie Harris [and] Marcus Harrison [and others] are all sidelined." Harris and Harrison? That sucks. If the Bears don't get a greatly improved pass rush, it won't matter much who is playing safety or corner. And the improvement, considering this system of defense, has to begin with the under tackles.

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This page contains a single entry by Brad Biggs published on May 20, 2009 11:39 AM.

Strong-side inspection: A look at Roach vs. Hillenmeyer battle was the previous entry in this blog.

Report: Bears bringing in veteran CB Rod Hood for visit is the next entry in this blog.

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