Bears minicamp review: Brisker, Gordon vital to defensive success originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago:
We opened our training camp review series by focusing on arguably the Bears’ two biggest problem areas – offensive line and wide receiver.
So, let’s flip the script with the third installment and look at a group I’m bullish on heading into training camp.
It’s a unit with two rookies, one budding star, a former All-Pro looking to return to his elite form, and a former sixth-round pick with eyes on capturing a starting spot.
It’s time to talk secondary, the position group that might be the strength of the 2022 Bears.
CB: Jaylon Johnson:
CB: Kyler Gordon:
SS: Jaquan Brisker:
FS: Eddie Jackson:
NB: Thomas Graham Jr.
The Bears’ secondary was downright dreadful in 2021. It ranked dead last in passer rating against (103.3) and tied for 30th in touchdown passes allowed at 31.
If it seemed terrible on the outside, it felt worse to the Bears’ best player in the defensive backfield.
“S – t, I mean, I felt like I was struggling too,” Johnson said during OTAs. “At the end of the day, we’re all in this together. We just got to be on one page. I feel like a lot of things were more mental than physical things.”
To win in today’s NFL, you have to be able to protect and affect the quarterback. With the Bears’ defensive line still a work in progress, the best way to help what could be a mediocre pass rush is to have guys in the back end who are capable of making plays.
So, new general manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus used their top two draft picks on the defensive backfield, selecting cornerback Kyler Gordon and safety Jaquan Brisker.
Both rookies opened eyes early at rookie minicamp and OTAs. To Johnson, there’s no need to ease in Gordon and Brisker. The Bears need them to play, and play well, immediately.
“S – t, I’d throw ’em in the fire if you asking me,” Johnson said. “I mean, they’re our first two draft picks. I feel like we’ve got to what they can do right now. And then I feel like we can kind of know what the attitude and what the vibe is heading into camp. “If I was the coach, I wouldn’t ease them into it. I would throw them out there.”
Gordon did not participate in mandatory minicamp, but he impressed with his takeaway ability during OTAs. His sticky coverage skills and nose for the ball should make him an ideal No. 2 corner opposite Johnson.
Brisker, meanwhile, has been everything the Bears hoped for and more. The Penn State product’s willingness to play down in the box should free up Jackson to move to deep safety, where he thrives at reading the quarterback and causing havoc in the backend.
There’s no doubt Brisker will be the starting strong safety in Week 1 against the 49ers, and there’s no telling how good he can be.
“He’s been really good, really good,” Eberflus said after minicamp wrapped up. “In fact, I was just talking to Alan Williams about him on the field, and we’re just so thrilled with his talent, you know, with his mental makeup and just the person he is and where he is in his development so far up until this point. Has he shown everything needed to see to really look around the corner to see ‘Hey, where is this guy’s potential?’ And it’s our job as coaches and players together to get him to his potential his first year. “
Not only does Brisker fit Eberflus’ “M&M” mold, but he also could unlock Jackson, who is trying to rediscover his All-Pro form of 2018. If Brisker delivers, the Bears could get a two-for-one special.
Poles and Eberflus inherited a bottom-five roster situation. It had to be gutted, and there was only so much they could fix in their first offseason.
While the offensive line and wide receiver corps still need a facelift, they gave the secondary an influx of talent. If Brisker and Gordon play to their potential, the secondary should be a stable bedrock for the defense in 2022.
Biggest question: Can Eddie Jackson find the old Eddie Jackson?
X-factor: Kyler Gordon:
Johnson is a budding star, Jackson is a veteran who is motivated to find his A-game, and I believe Brisker has the goods.
But for the secondary to succeed, the Bears need a reliable No. 2 cornerback opposite Johnson. Gordon was a first-round talent who slid into the second round. The Bears quickly snapped him up, and for good reason.
Gordon did not allow a touchdown in 722 coverage snaps during his time in Seattle, per ProFootballFocus. He has all the tools to be a lockdown corner in the NFL. Length, athleticism, ball skills, intelligence.
When he was on the field at Halas Hall, Gordon had Eberflus smiling.
“Kyler’s been lighting it up the last two days,” Eberflus said after the Bears’ second OTA practice. “I’ll just tell you that. The guy’s got tremendous ball skills. He’s been playing the defense the right way, and we’re very impressed with him. I’ll just tell you that. And he’s doing a good job the first two days. “
If Gordon can handle the learning curve, the Bears will have patched up the secondary in one offseason.
Verdict: If Brisker and Gordon are for real, so is the Bears’ secondary.