The Bears could be searching for answers at slot corner heading into their Week 2 matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this Sunday. The team released its first injury report of the week and Kyler Gordon did not participate with a hand injury, and backup slot corner Josh Blackwell was limited with a hamstring injury.
Gordon hurt himself while rushing Packers QB Jordan Love in the third quarter of the team’s Week 1 loss to the Packers. After the play, Gordon immediately grabbed his hand and ran off the field to go see the team’s training staff.
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After practice on Wednesday, Blackwell said he was "feeling good," but the decision about whether or not he'll be healthy enough to play will be a day-to-day process.
"I play every day the same way, just working, just getting better," Blackwell said. "Excited for the challenge."
If Gordon ultimately can’t play this week, but Blackwell can, Blackwell figures to step into the nickel position. The Bears claimed Blackwell off waivers from the Eagles after the final NFL cut down day last year and he quickly emerged as a special teams star. When Gordon missed time with a concussion in the latter half of the season, Blackwell got his first opportunity on defense and played well. Over four games in 2022, Blackwell played 133 defensive snaps and only surrendered a 53.8% completion rate when targeted. He racked up 12 tackles on defense over that same time frame.
If Blackwell plays on Sunday, head coach Matt Eberflus said that experience from last year will be invaluable, since it will help him know what to do in a complicated role.
“There is a lot of detail to the position, that nickel spot, and he's done a good job in there,” Eberflus said. “Iff we go that route, he'll do a nice job.”
That experience also gives the rest of the Bears secondary faith that Blackwell can come in and get the job done properly.
“What gives me confidence is I’ve seen him do it,” said No. 1 cornerback Jaylon Johnson. “I mean, shoot, he played against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers last year and he did a really good job. He’s definitely been out there in the fire, he’s been thrown out there. He knows what it looks like, he knows how it feels to be out there in a real game playing against some real competition. So, I’m looking forward to him going out there, learning that chemistry with the ones and then playing ball.”
If Blackwell can’t play, things get a little dicier. The options seem to be moving Tyrique Stevenson to the middle since he has experience at the position from his time at Georgia, inserting fellow rookie Terell Smith, or having Jaylon Jones take over. It’s worth noting Stevenson prefers playing outside corner to slot, and we did not see Smith play inside over the course of training camp. Jones played nickel in three games last season and said he'll be ready to play there again if needed.
"I'm ready to go at corner, I'm ready to go at nickel," Jones said. "I have taken some reps at safety, too. Just anywhere, because it's football. That's what I learned last year, you've got to be ready for anything. I always prepare like that."
Jones only played two snaps on defense in Week 1, but had 20 special teams snaps. Jones doesn't believe those special teams snaps will help him on defense, per se, but they'll still be beneficial if he needs to step in for both Gordon and Blackwell.
"I'm moving, so it's not like I'm getting called in the fourth quarter and I've been sitting all game, now I've gotta go out there. Then I'd be a little cold. So it kinda helps."
Finally, Dylan Cole was limited with a hamstring injury. Cole has not participated much at practice this year due to injury.