One of the neat things about being part of SB Nation is the access we have to their various experts throughout the network. If we want more details about the Chicago Bears' next opponent, we'll talk to one of our sister sites. If we want the skinny on the NFL Draft, we'll hit up our draft editor. And if we want some insight on the latest rookie class for the Chicago Bears, we'll go straight to the site that has covered their entire collegiate career.
Recently we had the chance to talk with Gopher Nation, Manager of The Daily Gopher, the SB Nation site that covers the Minnesota Golden Gophers, about fourth round draft pick Brock Vereen.
Windy City Gridiron - From an athletic standpoint, he was one of the top defensive back prospects at the NFL Combine. He also showed versatility and smarts at Minnesota by lining up all over the defensive secondary. Where do you think he played his best ball in college, at corner or safety?
The Daily Gopher - I don't know if I can adequately answer that question as I really liked him at both spots. I can recall that Vereen at corner was reliable in both coverage skills and run support. And I vividly remember Vereen typically being in the right place at safety and making plays when available. This pick against Iowa (in the clip below) was one of my favorite plays of the year. Vereen was in perfect position, the Iowa quarterback didn't see him and he jumped the pass for an easy pick in the end zone. In the clip he was obviously playing safety and the more I've thought about it the more I think I like him at safety over corner (but I wouldn't rule out nickel either).
WCG - ESPN analyst Todd McShay chose the Bears' selection of Vereen in the fourth round as the best pick by any NFC North team in the entire draft. Do you share his optimism about Vereen's chances as a pro?
TDG - I do. Vereen is the kind of kid who is very professional in the work he puts into preparing not just his body but also mentally preparing himself. He never wowed the Big Ten with his athleticism or his dynamic play-making ability. But he was well-prepared, put himself in the right position and he was incredibly consistent. There is a lot to be said for not making mistakes to beat yourself and relying on your fundamentals to allow yourself to make plays. That isn't going to land you on All-Pro teams, but it can make for a long career and a contributing member to an NFL team. In addition to being in the right place consistently, Vereen does have natural anticipation and is able to read what is going on to be able to make the play.
WCG - The Bears had some tackling issues at safety last season; how is Vereen in that department?
TDG - I have no reason to be concerned about his tackling ability. He was right around 60-65 tackles in each of the last three seasons. He isn't going to be knocking NFL backs on their butts or lighting up receivers who come across the middle, but he is a reliable and sure tackler with good footwork.
WCG - It appears the Bears will give Vereen a crack at the free safety job while incumbent Chris Conte is rehabbing his injury; with only three career interceptions does he have good enough hands and ball skills to be a center-field type free safety?
TDG - I thought about this question a lot. First of all, I would say that his lack of interceptions has nothing to do with poor hands. It is not as though he had several potential interceptions that his stone-hands couldn't bring down. Vereen is the kind of guy who will be in position to rake through receivers arms or knock the ball down more than he'll be beating a receiver to the ball. In regards to getting a shot at free safety, I think that is going to be a great fit for him. Consider this quote from Bear's GM Phil Emery, "Kind of like a center fielder in terms of breaking on the crack of the bat," Emery said. "He's good in coverage in terms of anticipating cuts and mirroring receivers, staying with receivers through their cuts. (He's) good in terms of his angles and his fits against the run."
His ability to read the field and be in the right place, along with his ability to anticipate and react quickly should make him a solid candidate at FS. Will he be starting game 1? I'd be surprised, he is a 4th round rookie. But I like his chances to make the team and contribute as a rookie.
WCG - Every scouting report I've read about Vereen points to his leadership and character. Do you have any interesting tidbits about this?
TDG - No real interesting tid bits. He is a very mature and bright young man. For much of the past year he has been a regular guest on a local sports radio station. The kid was always very poised and has a very engaging personality. During the college football season he gave a good account of how the team was doing with Coach Kill's seizure issues and took us through the ups and downs of the Gopher's seasons. After the season he took us through his combine prep and his draft prep. It was all very interesting.
He has learned a lot from his brother about what it takes to be a professional and that, along with his mature nature, makes him a bit more than just a rookie. I would much rather have seen Brock in purple this fall, but I wish him the best.
Thanks again to The Daily Gopher!