I’m taking some liberties with number eight in my Ten Most Important Chicago Bears this year because I’m not sure which player will end up as their primary slot corner in 2019.
So, coming in at number eight in my countdown is the nickelback position.
The odds on favorite to win the job is free agent Buster Skrine. He was given a three-year, $16.5 million ($5.5 million guaranteed) deal to replace Bryce Callahan, who was very good at his job and got 3/$21/$10 from the Broncos. The 30-year old Skrine has never been the player that Callahan was, but he’s also never played with as much talent that he’ll have along side him in Chicago. I think it’s fair to say it there’s a possibility he’ll be more effective with Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks getting after the quarterback, and with Eddie Jackson patrolling the secondary.
Skrine is a scrappy player that has plenty of experience at outside corner, as well as some safety, so he could be a do-it-all super sub if he fails to win the #1 nickel spot. If Skrine falters the Bears could turn to veteran Sherrick McManis, who has filled in admirably the last few years when needed, but he’s not a prototypical twitchy type of athlete for the spot. I think McManis’ best place on the roster is captaining the special teams while playing in the secondary only in a pinch.
Which brings me to rookie Duke Shelley, who looks the part at 5’9” and 180 pounds, and according to the beat writers that were in attendance at some of the OTAs and Larry Mayer of chicagobears.com, Shelly has had a heck of an offseason.
It will be interesting to see whether the rookie sixth-round draft choice can pick up in training camp where he left off in offseason workouts. Shelley excelled in OTA and minicamp practices, impressing coaches with his quickness and ball skills.
At the post draft press conference, Bears’ GM Ryan Pace mentioned how much the team had been talking about Shelley prior to the NFL Draft. Pace said he was, “a little bit undersized but extremely athletic. Really twitchy. Good ball skills. A guy we’ve liked for a long time internally and excited to get him at that point.”
“At that point” was the sixth round, and he was a player that most Bears’ fans had never even heard of. He wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine and his senior season was cut short with an injury, but Chicago’s scouts were all over him.
“He’s so scrappy,” Pace said at the post draft presser. “If it’s completed, it’s earned. He’s very sticky in coverage. He’s highly, highly competitive. He’s just very athletic. When you look at his PBUs and his interceptions, they’re coming in a very athletic manner. It’s not gimmes. Everything is earned.”
With Pace’s late round track record so good, it’s easy to assume that Shelley will just be another gem that can compete as a rookie.
Whether it’s Skrine, McManis or Shelley, the nickelback spot will be on the field a ton in 2019. Like most teams, the Bears use nickle more that their standard 3-4 base defense, so getting this position right is a big deal.
Who do you guys think will win the job for week one?