Bears

The Bears are getting a different type of nickel cornerback in Buster Skrine

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USA Today

The Bears are getting a different type of nickel cornerback in Buster Skrine

When the Bears’ defense takes the field against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on Opening Night, they’ll be returning 9 of the 11 starters that were part of a 2018 squad that was one of the best in Bears’ history. 

One of the few new faces that figure to be among the starting 11 is cornerback Buster Skrine. Gone is Bryce Callahan, who left for Vic Fangio’s Denver team after spending the first four years of his career in Chicago. Though Bears’ scouts have had their eye on Skrine for a few seasons now, it was his more palatable three-year, $16.5 million contract -- compared to Callahan’s three-year, $21 million contract -- that finally got him in house. 

“Me and Buster came out the exact same year, and I’ve watched him,” Prince Amukamara said after OTAs on Wednesday afternoon. “He actually played with my best friend and he would always talk about how fast Buster is -- especially when Buster played gunner. 

“I’ve always watched him, and I feel like he’s very similar to Bryce [Callahan] by being quick and being active. I’m definitely happy with the pick up.” 

Once considered a spot to place the third-best, less-athletic cornerback, no position has seen it's value increase so dramatically over the last decade. Offenses are changing dramatically; no team saw more three receiver sets in 2018 than the Bears’ defense. Per Sharp Stats, opposing offenses lined up in 11 personnel against Chicago 78% of the time. The next closest was the Chiefs at 71%, and the NFL average is 65%. 

“I think nickel is a different ball game,” Amukamara added. “I would say it can be one of the hardest positions on the field, just because you’re on an island, but the receiver has so much room to work with. Plus, it’s a lot of mental gymnastics, so you’ve got to know when you’re blitzing, know when you’re running, and so we put a lot on our nickel.” 

Despite not being considered part of a what teams have traditionally considered base defense, the pass-happy nature of this era in the NFL has all but mandated that nickel corners are on the field for most of the defensive snaps. It’s no coincidence that before breaking his foot against the Rams in Week 12, Callahan was on pace to set a career-high in snap percentage. 

“Nowadays, you see a lot more sub packages,” Bears defensive backs coach Deshea Townsend said. “You’re probably playing 70% in sub during a game now… Otherwise, it hasn’t really changed - he just plays more. That’s the thing - he is technically a starter. He’s probably going to run on the field first in a lot of games, and by rule that’s a starter.

“One thing about the nickel position is that you’ve got to do a little bit of both. You can’t just go out on 3rd down and cover and run the option routes. Now they’re going to hand off the ball and find out where you’re at and you’re going to have to make a tackle. That’s the difference in the position now - it’s a first and second down type of guy that has to be able to do it all.”

While Skrine isn’t considered as good a cover corner as Callahan, Skrine’s pass rush and run defense looks pretty similar. Per Pro Football Focus, Skrine’s run defense graded out significantly higher (80.7) than Callahan’s (57.8). 

“With Buster, it’s about his playing experience,” Townsend added. “He’s a guy who will mix it up in the run. He can blitz, and he’s reliable. He’s tough.”

Kindle Vildor dubbed Bears' rookie who could be surprise gem in 2020

Kindle Vildor dubbed Bears' rookie who could be surprise gem in 2020

Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace has a good eye for talent in the later rounds of the NFL Draft. He nailed picks like Eddie Jackson (fourth round), Jordan Howard (fifth round) and Adrian Amos (fifth round) over the years, and the hope is that one of his Day 3 picks in 2020 will continue that trend.

One player who has a chance to exceed his draft slot is Georgia Southern cornerback, Kindle Vildor, who Pace selected in the fifth round of April's draft. He was recently named the Bears' rookie who could be a surprise gem in 2020.

"We stress confidence when we talk about the corner position," general manager Ryan Pace told reporters. "And [Vildor] definitely has that confidence and that playing demeanor that we look for. A skill set that also translates well to special teams, which is going to be important especially in the early part of his development."

The two-time first-team All-Sun Belt performer will have to beat out a few veterans for reps, but his man-coverage and ball skills should fit favorably in the Bears' defensive scheme.

While most of the post-draft attention has been paid to another Bears rookie cornerback, second-round pick Jaylon Johnson, Vildor has a chance to earn significant playing time as a rookie. Only Kyle Fuller is assured a starting job at this point, and while Vildor faces an uphill battle to unseat Buster Skrine for reps, there's no reason to bet against him. Pace has always been a proponent of competition breeding the best results and if Vildor rises to the occasion, the Bears will waste little time inserting him into the lineup.

Vildor ended his college career with 94 tackles, nine interceptions and 25 passes defended.

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    NFL, players union agree on 5 year extension for 'Madden' video game

    NFL, players union agree on 5 year extension for 'Madden' video game

    Good news, Madden fans: you can officially continue spending $80 to complain about how the game hasn't been good in years. 

    According to Darren Rovell, the NFL and EA Sports have agreed to a 5-year extension: 

    Rovell says his sources have told him that, 'the deal is worth at least $1 billion to the NFL and $500 million to the players. The deal also includes at least $500 million in marketing commitments over the years.' 

    Congrats to everyone involved! Now more than ever, football fans need some good news. There's no tradition as timeless as throwing controllers through TVs and against walls when your friend runs four verticals with a Y skinny post over and over and over again. Madden exists solely to allow people cover to yell at the TV without the presence of, like, a real reason. What would we do without it?