Special-teams star Corey Graham wants chance to play cornerback
SEAN JENSEN ON THE NFL December 3, 2011 6:12PM
Gabe Carimi (at the Jewish Unity Parade in May) says he isn’t worried about his long-term health. | Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 5, 2012 8:27AM
Even though he hasn’t started a game since 2009, Bears special-teams ace Corey Graham never has questioned his cornerback skills.
Graham, who started nine games in 2008, has established himself as one of the NFL’s elite special-teams players, with coordinator Dave Toub long insisting he deserves a Pro Bowl selection.
But Graham doesn’t want to be pigeonholed.
‘‘I’m not just a special-teamer,’’ Graham told me. ‘‘Most special-teamers, that’s all they can do. But I know I can play corner. I know I can play on defense. I’ve been trying to say that the last couple of years.
‘‘In the right situation, I can be a very good corner. And I believe I can be a starting corner on a lot of teams.’’
Filling in for nickel back D.J. Moore, Graham has interceptions in three consecutive games.
‘‘Every time he shows up, he’s taking the ball away,’’ defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli told me, ‘‘and he’s an excellent tackler. Very heady. He’s come in and done an excellent job.’’
Graham, though, said he hasn’t gained any confidence based on his performance in the last few games.
‘‘It’s been a while since I was able to go out and show the world what I can do, but I’ve never lost confidence in my ability,’’ Graham said. ‘‘I know that I can play in this league as a DB, and I know what I can do out there.’’
Graham was a free agent last offseason, but he wasn’t overwhelmed by offers from other teams. One of the issues, he was told, was a lack of film on him playing defense, so he only was promised special-team reps, not defensive ones.
With the lockout, Graham said he didn’t want to join another team and try to learn a new defense.
‘‘If I’m going to play special teams, I’m going to play for the best special-teams unit in the NFL,’’ Graham said. ‘‘It was a great situation to come back here. It was perfect for me and my family.’’
Graham said he’s open to staying with the Bears, but he made it clear his desire is to play defense. That creates a tricky situation.
Starting cornerback Tim Jennings is set to become a free agent, but he would appear to be one of the Bears’ priorities. Moore, meanwhile, has been dynamic as the Bears’ nickel back.
One NFC North scout said that Graham lacks the speed to be an every-down cornerback and that he’d be limited to a scheme similar to the one the Bears run. He projected Graham as a fourth cornerback on most teams. Another NFC scout said Graham would be best suited to play nickel.
Graham, though, insisted he can play outside, too.
‘‘The crazy thing is, I think I’m a lot better outside than inside,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s easier. On the inside, you’ve got a lot of reads and a lot more going on. On the outside, you’ve got the sideline to help you.’’
Toub has mixed emotions about Graham’s strong play.
‘‘It’s scaring me because he’s making so many interceptions,’’ Toub said. ‘‘But I’m happy for him. He’s showing that he can play defense.
‘‘I call him the playmaker because all he does is make plays.’’
Bears rookie offensive tackle Gabe Carimi played in only two games this season and was placed on season-ending injured reserve about two weeks ago.
Despite his history of knee injuries, including a torn medial collateral ligament while at Wisconsin, Carimi said he’s not concerned about his long-term health.
‘‘This is a one-year deal,’’ said Carimi, the Bears’ first-round draft pick in April.
As for injured reserve, Carimi said, ‘‘I just hope it happens once in my career.’’
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli had high praise for the two-sack, five-pressure game Julius Peppers turned in last Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.
Asked where it ranks among the performances by players he has coached, Marinelli said, ‘‘It’s right
up there. I mean, the numbers are good. But the execution . . . ’’
Marinelli then excitedly displayed one of Peppers’ pass rushes.