When injured cornerback Nathan Vasher is healthy enough to return, he may have a hard time getting his job back from Corey Graham.
The Bears hope to have Vasher and Charles Tillman available for their next game, Nov. 2 against the Lions, following this week's open date. Vasher has missed the past three games with a wrist injury that required surgery and stabilizing pins. Tillman missed last week's game with a shoulder injury.
As a result, Graham, a fifth-round pick last year from New Hampshire, has started the last three games and four of the last five. His 33 tackles in the last three weeks are more than any other Bear, and he picked off his first pass last week and forced a fumble a week earlier.
"Corey Graham has played well every time he's been given an opportunity," head coach Lovie Smith said. "You look at the play of Trumaine McBride (who started last week alongside Graham) and Corey, those guys really stepped up and helped our team win."
Graham started his first NFL game in Week 3, even before Vasher was injured, because coaches preferred his more physical presence against the Buccaneers' strong running game. Graham says physical play has always been his style, and at 6-0 and 193 pounds, he's got enough size to withstand the collisions.
That could make him a natural for the nickelback spot and would allow the Bears to keep their top three corners on the field for much of the time.
"The exact same thing I do here is what I've been doing since I was in little league football," Graham said. "I've always loved making tackles. I was taught since I was very young always run to the ball. So I've always been a 10-, 11-, 12-tackle-a-game guy."
Graham was one of the Bears' best special-teams performers last season, finishing second on the club with 20 tackles. But from the first day of training camp this year he showed the potential to be much more than that, especially when he got extensive playing time with the first team while Tillman was away dealing with his infant daughter's health problems. That opportunity to play with and against the starters was a key to his development.
CB Corey Graham
Rex Arbogast/AP Images
"The more experience you have playing against the ones and faster guys and better receivers, that helps," Graham said. "Over the offseason, the key for me mostly was just staying healthy and learning the defense better."
While casual fans may be shocked by Graham's emergence as a starting-caliber corner, he's not surprised by his success. A fractured leg wiped out the second half of his senior season, and an ankle injury impeded his progress as a rookie when he was already scrambling to learn a new defensive scheme and get acclimated to the NFL.
This year Graham is healthier, and the game has slowed down a bit.
"I knew I had it in me," he said. "It wasn't something that just popped up out of nowhere. I just finally got an opportunity to show it. Last year I wasn't 100 percent. I was trying to learn the defense on the run, trying to do a million things at once. I'm getting the opportunity finally, and it helps out a lot. You've got to take advantage of it."
NOTES & QUOTES
Safety Terrence Holt was signed to the active roster Wednesday to replace Zack Bowman.
Holt, the brother of Rams wide receiver Torry Holt, was a fifth-round pick (137th overall) of the Lions in 2003. He spent four seasons in Detroit playing their version of the Cover-2 defense and last season with Cardinals, who waived him in the offseason after he started all 16 games. He signed with the Panthers on March 20, 2008 but was waived at the end of the preseason.
Holt has started 43 NFL games and played in 69 with 245 tackles (172 solos), 8 interceptions and 13 passes defensed.
Holt has been a traveling man recently, attending tryouts with the Seahawks, Titans, Texans and Patriots.
"This is my fourth time zone in two days," Holt said. "I was in Raleigh, where I stay, and I flew to Salt Lake City on the way to Seattle, and then I was on my way back to Raleigh when [the Bears] called. I haven't had much sleep, and I go out and practice [Wednesday] and the offense runs no-huddle, and I'm out there the whole time." …
The past few days have been a roller-coaster ride for Bowman.
On Oct. 14, the fifth-round pick from Nebraska was promoted from the practice squad. And last Sunday, in his first NFL game, he recovered a fumble in the end zone for his first career touchdown in the 48-41 victory over the Vikings, earning him the NFL Special Teams Player of the Week award.
Bowman later added a game-clinching interception, the first of his career, with 40 seconds remaining to preserve the victory. That play came after Bowman suffered a torn biceps that required season-ending surgery Wednesday.
Bowman is the first Bears player to record a touchdown and interception in his NFL debut since Gerald "Bones" Weatherly on Sept. 17, 1950. …
Kyle Orton's record as a starter at Soldier Field is 11-2 after Sunday's victory, and he's won 10 of his last 11 in the friendly confines. He has not been intercepted in the past three games and has thrown 116 consecutive passes without being picked off, going back to the fourth quarter of the Eagles game in Week 4.
QUOTE TO NOTE
"We haven't really made any accomplishments yet. We're playing pretty good football as a unit and as a team, and we've got a good week to try to get better in this bye week." – QB Kyle Orton low-keying his recent success.
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