The Bears put forth another disappointing offensive performance on Monday, with practically all of the splashy plays belonging to the defense. It was a surprising development, given the Bears were missing their entire starting secondary, and several other key rotational players. From an outsider’s perspective, the most surprising performance of all may have been rookie cornerback Thomas Graham’s NFL debut.
But to Graham’s teammates, his big night wasn’t a surprise at all.
“He’s been a baller, the world just didn’t know about him,” said Deon Bush. “Everybody sees him as just a practice squad guy, because he ain’t get his opportunity yet. But once he got his opportunity, he showed the world. Big ups to him.”
Before Monday Night, Graham had spent all of his rookie campaign on the practice squad, after sitting out all of the 2020 college season due to COVID-19 concerns. Graham admitted that sitting out a year made it hard to play consistently in training camp, and he recognized the need to develop in that area. But one area where Graham seems to be ahead of the curve is the mental side of the game.
“Graham’s always been pretty smart,” said Bush. “He’s smart. He’s very intelligent.”
Graham showed off that intelligence when breaking down two of his more impressive pass breakups in the game, starting with his deflection in the endzone that prevented a touchdown:
“It was the tight end,” Graham said. “It was a max protection look, so I knew that if I was going to get a route that…I was just like, it’s no way he’s going to run a corner. In my head, if somebody tries to sell a route too hard, they’re not running that route. So he tried to sell a corner too hard, he broke in, I stayed back, and we knew when they get into the red zone they like posts. They just tried to hit it off a corner post, trying to get me out of my leverage.”
It was a heady play, and an athletic break up, but Graham still had notes for himself on how he could’ve improved.
“I got there and I should’ve turned my hands over this way [gestures hands in better catching position] to get the pick, but you know I went this way [gestures hands as they appear on the tape]. I’ll take the pass breakup.”
In that instance Graham illustrated how he kept from being fooled by the offense, but on another play, he shared how he may have fooled Kirk Cousins. It’s the third play on this Graham highlight reel:
“We were in Cover 2,” Graham said. “I seen the flat guy, but also was looking at Kirk Cousins, seeing his shoulders high, and I was like, no way that he’s throwing short. So I took one step to make it seem like he had me paused, but in reality I’m still getting out of there.”
Despite making another incredibly athletic play, Graham had the same note for himself.
“I need to get on the Vertimax a little bit so I can get the pick, but I’ll take the pass breakup.”
While all of these breakdowns seem like advanced material for a rookie making his NFL debut, Graham further explained how his preparation helped him to succeed.
“Understand the basics of that team. Know what they run. Know what they do. You’re not playing against a receiver, I’m not playing against a quarterback, I’m playing against an offensive coordinator. So it’s what he likes, how does he attack him? How does he attack corners that are like me? How does he attack my scheme? Just actually paying attention and taking how Eddie studies, how T-Gip studies, how Jaylon studies, how Kindle, and just trying to find pieces to make into my game to where, now I come into this moment and I’m prepared. Like Kobe always said, you ain’t got to be nervous when you’re prepared.”