Why Kyler Gordon could be Swiss army knife on defense originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Both Bears second-round picks are expected to start immediately in Week 1. Jaquan Brisker looks poised to make an impact as the strong safety, beside Eddie Jackson. Barring injury, or some other drastic development, Kyler Gordon will be there too. The question is, will it be opposite Jaylon Johnson on the outside? Or will Gordon line up as the team’s nickel back?
Since the start of training camp, the Bears have rotated Gordon between both positions and say he’s got the traits that will help him succeed no matter where he takes the field.
“Twitchy,” defensive coordinator Alan Williams said about why Gordon can play inside or outside. “He can change directions and he has some size to him and he’s a ball magnet. For some reason he’s always around the football. He’s around the football and when he is he turns it over. [Last Friday], you saw the first play: Tipped ball, and he catches it, takes it up the sideline. And he’s smart. He gobbles up information. He’s one of the ones that you like. Has good athleticism but also has the will and the drive to be a good player. So we’re excited about him.”
Meanwhile, Gordon says he was excited when the team finally told him to start working in the slot.
“I had the biggest smile on my face because I love nickel and I love what I can do there,” Gordon said. “It’s just been really fun.”
That genuine desire to play inside is a big plus for Gordon’s coaches, too.
“That’s a big deal when players want to do what you ask them to do,” said Williams. “Some guys are just compliant. They go, ‘Hey coach I’ll do anything you ask me to do,’ but when you have a guy that wants to do what you’re asking him to do you’re getting a little extra edge in terms of how that guy performs.”
“I think he’s got the great attitude,” said Matt Eberflus. “He always has. He loves to try new things. He’s been doing that ever since he’s been this high. And he loves that, so it’s a challenge to him and he’s excited about the position.”
Gordon enjoys the nickel because he believes it allows him to play to his strengths. He used the same word, “twitchy” to describe his ability to change directions in a hurry, which is important when playing zone in the middle of the field. Gordon also loves playing nickel, because it means he gets to participate in run fits more often.
“To have an opportunity to really come down and just full speed, put your shoulder into someone else’s chest, that’s fun to me,” Gordon said. “So honestly, that’s just really what it is. I’m not trying to save my body for anything. This is the sport that I want to do, [so] that’s what I’m going to do.”
The Bears always knew they wanted to work Gordon in at nickel, and Gordon had a sense they were going to ask him to do it, too. From the team’s perspective, they knew he could play the position because of what they saw from him at Washington. But first they wanted to see how much Gordon could handle mentally in his first NFL offseason program. When Gordon proved he could absorb all the different techniques and fundamentals they threw at him during OTAs, they knew he was ready to have more put onto his plate during camp.
Where Gordon ultimately lines up isn’t entirely up to him however. The Bears are also evaluating Kindle Vildor on the outside, and Tavon Young on the inside with the starting defense. The Bears announced on Monday that Thomas Graham will miss some time with a hamstring injury, but if he returns before the end of camp, he could figure into the competition as well. And if Eberflus hypothetically trusts Young at the nickel more than he trusts Vildor on the outside, that will factor into his decision about where to start Gordon.
“It’s like a puzzle,” Eberflus said. “You’re trying to fit it together and put the best guys out there and is this combination of corners better than this combination?”
Even if Gordon starts on the inside in Week 1, or on 1st-and-10, it doesn’t mean he’ll stay there, either. The Bears will look at each matchup in a vacuum, and make their decisions accordingly. If there’s a big wide receiver in the slot, maybe Gordon plays nickel more than he would against a team that features a smaller guy inside.
All offseason, Eberflus and Ryan Poles have harped on the importance of versatility for their roster. They want guys who can do multiple things. If they can play multiple positions it’s even better, since it helps the overall depth of the team. We may not know exactly what role Gordon will play when September rolls around, but we certainly know the team appreciates his versatility, now.
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