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A new nickel: Bryce Callahan to reunite with Vic Fangio in Denver, departs Bears

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Formerly one of the Bears’ most underrated players, Callahan is reuniting with his long-time defensive coordinator at Mile High.

Chicago Bears v Arizona Cardinals
The feisty Callahan takes his talents to Mile High.
Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

A mission of continuity mostly defined the Bears’ 2019 off-season. That is, until the contract situations of Bryce Callahan and Adrian Amos came up. Like so many great bands before them, the Bears will need some new bassists and a little bit of luck. (Perhaps the entirety of Blink 182 comes back together one day.)

A few days after Amos signed with the Packers, Bryce Callahan is joining the Broncos, reports Benjamin Allbright. One of the Bears’ two lone unrestricted free agents coming into the open market period, the veteran Callahan rejoins his former Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio in Denver.

There had been doubt as to whether the Bears would actually bring Callahan back into the fold, at least at the price and term he reportedly coveted. Injuries have always been the main mitigating factor for Callahan, and they evidently played a huge role in his situation again. The Bears signed their proposed new nickel cornerback Buster Skrine earlier this week, showing the writing was on the wall. So Callahan naturally goes on to play with the comforts of the man who helped mold his career in Fangio.

The 27-year-old Callahan has never played more than 13 games in a season as he’s had a had a variety of durability issues plague his four-year career. Most recently, the versatile defensive back broke his foot and missed Chicago’s last four games of the 2018 season, which included a playoff defeat to the Eagles. Primary special teamer Sherrick McManis filled in admirably in Callahan’s absence down the stretch, but he couldn’t compare. If not for his unfortunate foot injury, it would’ve been safe to assume Callahan would still be on the Bears’ roster.

Talent has never been an issue for Callahan. When he’s on the field, he’s been one of the NFL’s best slot cornerbacks and has consistently shown out. His 12 passes defensed and four interceptions over the last two seasons almost understate what he’s capable of. You don’t typically see guys of Callahan’s stature — 5-foot-8, 188 pounds — getting dirty. Callahan clearly can’t be type-faced as he had five quarterback hits in 2018 thanks to consistent deployment on blitzes.

He’s a natural athlete unafraid to do the little things necessary for success. What more could you want? (Aside from health questions!)

What’s harmed Callahan from truly breaking out has been his inconsistent availability. Availability of which has kept him from entering the conversation of one of the best nickel cornerbacks more prominently. His situation can then be easily mirrored to Cameron Meredith. The Bears let Meredith walk last off-season after concerns over recovery from a knee injury were too prominent to have them commit to the playmaker long-term. Meredith of course started just one game and appeared in six for the Saints before being deactivated for most of 2018. Callahan’s issues are probably less severe and he’s more likened to continued success, but it’s evident the Bears don’t like committing to players with much of any injury issues. They won’t veer away from their modus operandi.

If Callahan can ever play a full season, he won’t be overlooked for much longer. If there’s anyone of which can consistently unlock him and help reach his full star potential with better injury fortune, it’s Fangio in Denver. Having pass rushers like the all-world Von Miller and Bradley Chubb in front of him can only help Callahan’s case. Going from Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks to Miller and Chubb is incredibly ideal for most secondary players. Some of the best work if you can get it.

From a competitive standpoint, it will be fascinating to see how the Bears elect to replace Callahan. Having two rangy but poor tackling safeties like Eddie Jackson and HaHa Clinton-Dix in the fold means Chicago’s nickel cornerback is going to have more responsibility in the defensive box. Someone like Skrine, who relatively struggles in pass coverage, should expect to be more active in run support than even someone like the feisty Callahan was. Deploying five defensive backs is the new NFL norm given how offenses are using some of their best weapons in the slot. The Bears better hope Skrine in whatever role — or a mid-round draft pick — is up to the task.

One of pro football’s most talented teams on paper, the Bears didn’t bring the entire band back together this off-season. Some band members justifiably moved on to other creative ventures, and Yoko Ono had no hand in their moves. But 20 of 22 starters from a 2018 division championship squad is nothing to scoff at in pursuit of a Super Bowl. Filling in the gaps behind Callahan and Amos won’t be easy at first, but it won’t be impossible.

Robert is the Editor-in-chief of The Blitz Network (subscribe here!), the managing editor of Windy City Gridiron, and writes for a host of other fine publications. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.