With Danieal Manning taking reps exclusively at strong safety there looks to be someone new coming in on passing situations for the Bears in 2010. While not a starter, the nickleback is as important a piece to the defense as there is. The NFL is a passing league and you need a deep and productive defensive secondary to have success in the NFL. I still believe that 'defense wins championships' and 'you build a successful team starting in the trenches', but you better add that trigger man at some point to find sustained glory... or since we're talking defense, you better be able to stop that trigger man.
I know that an improved pass rush can make even some mediocre defensive backs look serviceable, but you still hope to have the kind of depth in the secondary where your nickle can make some plays. So far the Bears have had Corey Graham and D.J. Moore splitting time at the position with no clear cut favorite.
Now before I get into the 2 top nickleback prospects in more detail, I need to touch on the safety position. The Bears in all their wisdom moved Manning to strong safety (which I have no problem with) a position that he's never technically played (but still I'm OK with the move). They then draft a free safety in Major Wright (again I'm on board). They then trade for Chris Harris (I'm a fan). Holdovers Craig Steltz, Josh Bullocks, Al Afalava are in the mix, but look to be long shots to start. So the plan as it looks now is to have Manning start at strong safety, even though he's more experienced at free safety, and to have Harris start at free safety, even though he's more experienced at strong safety. Makes perfect sense in a Lovie Smith world.
On to the nickle players. Lovie hasn't tipped his hand yet (from Yahoo! Sports);
"I'd just kind of go with that right now and let it play out at the nickel position," coach Lovie Smith said. "We like the potential. We've seen Corey Graham. We know a little bit about what type of player he is. We're excited about seeing D.J. at the nickel position. He has good instinct, great hands. We'll see how he goes."
Moore never really had a chance to show anything last season, whereas Graham has played in 45 games in his 3 year career with 10 starts. I thought after his 2008 season when he had 9 starts at corner (70 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, and 1 FR) he was a player that would consistently contribute for Chicago moving forward. Somehow he fell out of favor before the '09 season, some even saying he landed in the Lovie Smith Doghouse, even though there was never any actual reports as to why.
Who's the NFL odds on favorite to win the gig? Let's look at the two of them in a fight night style tale of the tape:
Corey Graham / D.J. Moore
6'0" 198 / 5'9" 183
age 24 / age 23
4th year pro / 2nd year pro
45 games played / 3 games played
The following are from the scouting reports on CBSSports.com
Graham / Moore
4.38 forty / 4.56 forty
10 bench reps / 17 bench reps
39" vertical / 39.5" vertical
42 college starts / 34 college starts
Interesting to note that both were accomplished return men in college, both were tabbed as good fits for the Cover 2 scheme, and both were knocked for their size coming to the NFL. From the aforementioned scouting report on Graham:
Negatives: Despite weighing 195 pounds, he has a rail-thin frame with marginal muscle mass in the upper body and thin calves and thighs ... Needs to add at least 10 pounds of muscle and continue to dedicate considerable hours in the training room to improve his marginal strength ...
But at least Moore did have a positive about his build:
Positives: Good upper body build for his size.
Negatives: Barely adequate height for a corner.
Personally I think Graham has the edge. I've liked what he's done in the past, and he has some nickleback experience. I just wonder if there is any truth to the doghouse rumors, and if they'll be any lingering effects if said rumors are true. If I had to lay odds I'd go even money right now. Both are in participating in all off season activities, and where Graham has the experience edge Moore has the "new toy" feel to him. I just hope the best man wins.
Even though I know I'm gonna regret typing this, please no Chad Kroeger/Nickleback jokes.