Bears Cornerback Sidelined With New Injury & No ‘Timetable’

Graham Injury Update

Getty Thomas Graham Jr. #27 of the Chicago Bears fights off Tariq Thompson #41 of the Buffalo Bills during a preseason game at Soldier Field on August 21, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bills defeated the Bears 41-15.

The Chicago Bears will be without one of their promising young cornerbacks at training camp for longer than initially anticipated.

Bears head coach Matt Eberflus told reporters on August 1 that second-year Thomas Graham Jr. is dealing with a hamstring injury that is “not progressing” how the training staff hoped and will miss “a little bit longer” than the team expected. The 2021 sixth-rounder did not participate in Monday’s camp practice but had been competing with veteran Tavon Young for a starting job as the Bears’ slot corner.

“Thomas Graham is a guy that’s going to take a little bit longer now,” Eberflus said after getting asked about injury updates. “We got the news this morning that it’s going to be a little bit longer for him. He’s dealing with a hamstring, so we thought it was less, but they’re saying it’s not progressing the way it (should), so it’s going to be a little bit longer. I won’t give you a timetable on it, but he’ll be back when he’s back.”

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Graham Rose to the Occasion as Rookie

Graham — a three-year standout at Oregon — did not make the Bears’ 53-man roster during his rookie season and instead spent the majority of his rookie year on their practice squad, but the 23-year-old put himself on the map when he got his first elevation opportunity during Week 15’s home game with the Minnesota Vikings.

With Jaylon Johnson and Artie Burns sidelined, Graham stepped in to make his first career NFL start opposite Kindle Vildor and made quite the impact against the Vikings while playing on every defensive snap (64). He allowed just two receptions for 10 yards on four targets and tallied seven tackles and three pass deflections, impressing the Bears’ former staff enough to earn him an active-roster spot the very next day.

Graham went on to play in each of the Bears’ final three games of the regular season, seeing significant snaps off the bench against Seattle in Week 16 but sliding into a deeper rotational role once the roster was healthier in Week 17. According to Pro Football Focus, he finished his four-game run as a rookie allowing a 50% completion rate in coverage (five receptions for 52 yards and a touchdown) and notched four pass breakups, three defensive stops and one tackle for a loss.

Can the Bears Rely on Young as Slot CB?

Graham’s injury could set him back in terms of trying to wrestle away the slot role for Young, but the latter was already getting extended looks with the first-team defense throughout the Bears first week of camp practices. After all, Young’s experience in the nickel role was the most appealing thing about him signing with Chicago this offseason.

The concern, however — as it has been for Young’s entire career — is the veteran’s health.

As a fourth-round pick in 2016 for Baltimore, Young broke out quickly for the Ravens in the slot role. He played every game, starting in 11 of them, as a rookie and finished the season with two interceptions, eight pass deflections and a combined 53 tackles, looking like an emergent talent for their defense. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL during OTAs in the following offseason and was forced to miss the entire 2017 season.

Young bounced back strong from his ACL injury in 2018 and recorded the first two sacks of his career along with two touchdowns (both on returned fumbles), but the excitement didn’t last for him. Over the next two years, Young sustained two different season-ending injuries — a neck injury during the 2019 preseason and another torn ACL in the second week of the 2020 season — and played just two total games. While he did return to play every game in 2021, it raises concerns for the Bears if they plan to rely on him.

The good news is that Young has been an effective slot corner when he is able to stay on the field. He has recorded at least one interception and three pass deflections in each of his three healthy seasons and has displayed a prowess for rushing the passer when given the opportunity, sitting at four career sacks. If the gamble pays off and the Bears can help keep Young healthy, he could be another dynamic piece in their improved secondary for 2022.

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