Bears rookie Kyler Gordon finding his comfort zone
After a typical season of rookie trials, Gordon seems like he’s in the right place at the right time — reaping the rewards of some hard lessons learned earlier in the season as a slot cornerback and ready to finish his first NFL season with momentum heading into 2023.
The Bears’ defense has been in a seasonlong funk in which every little mistake is costly. But against the Bills last week, rookie cornerback Kyler Gordon made one misplay right.
Gordon’s interception of quarterback Josh Allen at the goal line and 36-yard return momentarily took the Bears out of trouble in the second quarter and was a stroke of good fortune. The Bears didn’t pay for a mistake.
“I’m not gonna tell you we were all in the right coverage there. But sometimes you do the wrong thing [and] you stumble into something,” defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. “He dropped at the right angle that he thought he should and the quarterback threw the ball and sometimes when you’re not paint-by-numbers, you can be in the right place.”
After a typical season of rookie trials, Gordon seems as if he’s in the right place at the right time — reaping the rewards of some hard lessons learned earlier in the season as a slot cornerback — and ready to finish his first NFL season with momentum heading into 2023. The interception against the Bills was his third of the season and his second in as many games.
“I’m slowly but surely [improving] and just elevating my game since Day 1,” Gordon said. “I feel like the trajectory is going up.”
Indeed, Gordon is in a comfort zone on multiple levels — benefitting from 13 games of NFL experience, but also at his more familiar position of outside cornerback. With Kindle Vildor on injured reserve, undrafted rookie Josh Blackwell has excelled in the slot, allowing Gordon to play outside.
“A lot of people say the same thing, [that] I look relaxed. That’s how I feel,” said Gordon, a second-round draft pick (39th overall) from Washington. “I’m comfortable all over the field. I’m just doing my job — recognizing the formations, predetermining what I can get; going through my checks in my head; and just reading stuff. Everything is slower for me.”
Such comfort helped put Gordon in position to make plays, such as the interception against the Bills.
“Me knowing my stuff and where I can put my eyes and understanding what I can get from the offense based off a formation,” Gordon said. “I’m able to put my eyes in a place where I know the ball’s potentially going to be. I’ve already got my antennas up and I’m alert for something. There’s a higher probability for me to make a play if they put the ball in the area.”
The defense has struggled through much of the season, with the implementation of a new scheme under coach Matt Eberflus and Williams, the departures of linebacker Roquan Smith and defensive end Robert Quinn at midseason, five Week 1 starters out of the lineup and seven rookies combining for 43 starts and 3,034 snaps. The Bears are 31st in the NFL in points, 24th in yards allowed and 30th in yards allowed per play.
But the growth of players such as Gordon and safety Jaquan Brisker — also a second-round draft pick (48th overall) — provides hope that improvement in 2023 is possible.
“It’s a process of feeling comfortable,” Williams said. “Each week you see [Gordon] getting a little bit better. In the NFL it’s a game of inches, so if you can get a little bit better each week, you start to become yourself. You stop thinking about, ‘Hey, where am I putting my feet? Where am I putting my eyes?’ ”
Eventually, Williams said, players transition from thinking to reacting. “Little by little he’s doing that,” Williams said. “Then you see a better product, you see a faster product.”
Playing nickel cornerback has complicated matters for Gordon. “It’s way different being inside,” Gordon said. “Some stuff transfers, but I feel like it’s two different positions. You have to learn different techniques — whether it be gaps or blitzing, the inside type of routes. It’s completely different.”
Moving to outside corner not only has made things easier for Gordon, but he also believes the experience at nickel has made him a better -outside corner.
“Definitely,” Gordon said. “I’ve played corner my whole life. Going from inside out, I see -everything that a nickel does or what he’s gonna get. It’s just more information. It allows me to do more.”
Gordon still has a long way to go, but the Bears are encouraged that he has shown the versatility and play-making ability that compelled them to draft him in the second round when they arguably had more important holes to fill on offense.
“It’s going to expand him a little bit more,” Eberflus said. “He’s going to use a different skill set out there [at outside corner]. It’s just going to help him grow.
“He’s got high energy. He’s really good at his fundamentals. His techniques — he’s getting better there. And he’s a ballhawk guy. That’s why we brought him here. He’s proven that and he’s exciting to watch. I’m excited about the last two games for him.”