Bears hoping CB Kyler Gordon can minimize, cover up rookie mistakes

They’ll give their top draft pick some leeway in his first season, but not much. Gordon is expected to be NFL-ready.

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A photo of Bears rookie cornerback Kyler Gordon being announced at the NFL Draft after the team picked him No. 39 overall.

The Bears picked Gordon at No. 39 overall out of Washington.

Jae C. Hong/AP

Rookie mistakes are inevitable, especially at the most complicated positions, but the best young players can minimize them.

Bears coach Matt Eberflus said he accepts there will be turbulence with several rookies being rushed into the lineup this season, but the team thinks top draft pick Kyler Gordon is smart enough to (mostly) avoid those errors and athletic enough to make sure no one notices when he does commit one.

Every player on the field is athletic, of course. Left guard Cody Whitehair can run the 40-yard dash in five seconds, and kicker Cairo Santos managed some tackling drills just fine in a recent practice. But if Gordon is considered exceptionally athletic even among pro athletes, the Bears might have something special.

‘‘There’s certain guys in the NFL that are another level of athlete, and those guys play better because they can take a false step here or there and still get the job done with their God-given ability,’’ defensive backs coach James Rowe said. ‘‘[Gordon] falls in that department at times.’’

Gordon will need that advantage because he’s stepping into a difficult spot.

In case there are still any misconceptions about the nickel or slot cornerback, it must be clarified that this has become an essential position. The Colts, with Eberflus running their defense, have been using Pro Bowl pick Kenny Moore in that spot and are paying him nearly $7 million this season. He plays nearly every snap.

The position requires a player to be able to cover a speedy slot receiver or a burly tight end. The nickel has to be able to adapt quickly on a running play and often is used as a blitzer. That’s in contrast to the much more straightforward responsibilities at outside cornerback.

In short, the nickel must be good at everything. So far, Gordon has been.

‘‘He likes to try things and adjust his techniques, and he is a very confident guy,’’ Eberflus said. ‘‘He’s in a good spot.’’

The Bears leaned on Duke Shelley at nickel last season (he allowed 74.4% completions, according to Pro Football Reference) and Buster Skrine in 2020 (78.1% completions).

They allowed the NFL’s highest passer rating (103.3), third-most passing touchdowns (31) and 13th-highest completion percentage (65.8) last season and had the third-fewest interceptions (eight). All those issues flared despite the defensive backs playing behind a pass rush that was fourth in the NFL in sacks (49).

Among the glaring problems general manager Ryan Poles saw when he took the job, the secondary was an emergency. That more than justified picking Gordon at No. 39 overall and adding Penn State safety Jaquan Brisker at No. 48.

When the Bears ran predraft simulations, Poles said Gordon was rarely available by the time they were up. They were enticed by his background of playing nickel at Washington and — again, the athleticism comes up — his incredible agility, developed in part by coming up in competitive ballet and kung fu.

‘‘There are certain cuts that he makes that other people, their body won’t allow them to do,’’ Rowe said. ‘‘He has an extreme amount of flexibility, and you can tell in his lower body he has a lot of strength from, maybe, the dancing. He’s a dynamic athlete, and some movements that he makes are just not normal movements that we see on the football field, but they help him do his job better.’’

The biggest concern with Gordon is that he has been hurt on and off throughout his four months with the Bears. Coaches proclaim the usefulness of ‘‘mental reps,’’ but players as young as Gordon need real reps. He is expected to get a substantial workload Saturday against the Browns, which will give the Bears a clearer picture of how ready he is for the season.

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