Perhaps a scenario media and fans of the Bears are missing is the possibility that Fuller can actually be a starter at the nickel cornerback position. I know many may look at it as a disappointment that a number one pick wouldn’t be one of the two starters at either left or right cornerback on the outside, but not in my eyes and certainly not in the Bears eyes, if in fact Fuller can play at a high level on the inside. As a matter of fact in my opinion nickel corner is probably the position that Fuller should have been in from the day he was drafted.
In the NFL these days, the base offense is 11 personnel (1RB/1 TE) which is a three wide receiver set which means the nickel cornerback position is essentially a starting position. So there is no downgrade there and it’s a spot you can have an equal impact as the other two cornerback spots. In fact, you might even be able to make more plays.
Think about it. One, as a nickel corner you’re usually going against most teams number 3 option unless they have a special slot receiver like Julian Edelman for example. So your chance to dominate against a lesser receiver is more likely. Of course, you also have to factor in the number of targets coming your way which may give you less chance as a nickel to make plays in the passing game.
However, football has a running game too and there is another opportunity to make impact plays as you’re closer to the running back than an outside corner who is usually not a part of the running defense. Unless it’s tackling a running back downfield on an already successful run where you’re in minimizing damage mode when making the tackle.
Now, if you’re not a physical guy chances are you’ll probably be no more than an obstacle in the way to be pushed aside or run through. In Kyle Fuller the Bears have no such animal. Fuller is a physical corner who is exceptionally good at tackling. It’s one of the reasons I wanted him at the nickel position in kind of a hybrid role after watching what Virginia Tech’s legendary defensive coordinator Bud Foster did with him.
In the hands of a creative defensive coordinator, there are a lot of things that you can do with a kid like Fuller. I actually wrote about this awhile back when I was blogging for another site you can read here if you so desire. Here I wrote about the hybrid role Fuller played in as sort of a S/LB hybrid in Foster’s WHIP Linebacker position and how the Bears could use him. They, of course, had little creativity under former defensive coordinator Mel Tucker as he was hired to essentially run Lovie Smith’s Tamp-2 scheme as sort of a hired hack so the Bears veteran defensive players didn’t have to relearn another defense they may have not been a fit for.
As most of us know Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is pretty conservative, so the introduction of some wild card created rover position ala Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu is very much an unlikelihood for the Bears. However, just by being closer to the running game, and the line of scrimmage adds the possibility of making impact plays behind it more likely than as an outside corner. Fangio does occasionally run a cornerback blitz. Having Fuller closer to the quarterback and showing the ability to beat blitz pickup blocking may add an increase to the total of such blitzes using Fuller if it shows to have situational success.
Of course, the biggest difference Fuller can make on the field is in coverage. Fuller has a unique blend of size, speed, and quickness that seems to be a fit in the slot. He has the quick twitch to stay with smaller slot receivers while being big and physical enough to cover tight ends and backs working out of the (Y) receiver spot. The Bears have two very good options at nickel in Bryce Callahan and Cre’Von LeBlanc, but Kyle Fuller could be a real game changer there. Fuller, Prince Amukamara, and Marcus Cooper have the potential to be a formidable starting three against base offensive personnel.
With early reports on Fuller being encouraging it seems pretty logical that Fuller will play a ton of snaps for the Bears this season if it continues. Maybe the majority of it as a nickel cornerback? That remains to be seen and is complete speculation on my part as the Bears have made no proclamation of this nor has it been reported that Fuller is working at nickel by any media. However, if you have two starters on the outside committed big money and now a former first rounder oozing with potential and skill showing worthy at camp and in pre-season, what better way to get the most snaps for all three than to slide one of them at the nickel corner spot? Of the three Fuller fits the profile over both Cooper and Amukamara best. The real question is does he win the job over two excellent slot corners in Callahan and Leblanc.