Bryce Callahan, Potential Breakout Star

In the NFL, you don’t always know what to expect, even from returning players. Special play matters whenever it comes, and Justin Twell looks at a player that is giving the Chicago Bears more than they expected in Bryce Callahan.

The Chicago Bears defense was a unit that was predicted to improve in 2016 with the free agency additions of linebackers Danny Trevathan, Jerrell Freeman and defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. The Bears also focused on defense early in the draft with the selections of outside linebacker Leonard Floyd in the first round and defensive end Jonathan Bullard in the third. If the Bears defense were to be competitive in 2016, both of those selections would need to produce early.

But so far the player who is making some noise and performing at a high level may surprise most people: Bryce Callahan.

Callahan, an undrafted free-agent cornerback out of Rice University, who the Bears picked up in 2015, is the player who has gotten off to an impressive start. While not possessing prototypical size for an outside cornerback, Callahan, at 5’10’’ and 191 pounds, is showing not only the traits needed to be successful, but the tape shows a player with the desire to take on this opportunity of extended playing time in the NFL.

One of Callahan’s strengths that immediately sticks out when watching him is his tackling ability. In Week 2 against the Philadelphia Eagles, Callahan is lined up in the slot opposite wide receiver  Jordan Matthews (#81). The Eagles face a 2nd and 16 from their own 15 yard line with the Bears showing a Cover 1 look. As the play begins Eagles running back Darren Sproles (#43) takes the handoff and works towards the left side of the formation. Callahan shows good play recognition but even better patience on this play. He waits for Sproles to hit the hole and makes a great tackle as Sproles accelerates towards the second level.

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Here’s another example of great tackling and play recognition. In Week 4 against the Detroit Lions, Callahan is lined up outside, this time opposite wide receiver Golden Tate (#15) on a 2nd and 3 from the Lions’ 45-yard line. Callahan is playing off-coverage, 10 yards away from the line of scrimmage. As the ball is snapped, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford sees Tate has room to potentially catch and run – but Callahan recognizes this and shows great closing speed and wraps up Tate instantly for a 1-yard loss.

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Callahan can also be effective in coverage. Again in Week 2 against the Eagles, facing a 2nd and 7 from the Chicago 16-yard line, he is lined up behind outside linebacker Leonard Floyd and as this play develops he covers Eagles tight end Zach Ertz (#86) who runs a seam route towards the end zone. Two things to look for here: Ertz does get a step ahead of Callahan and  the deep safety makes the wrong decision to cover the opposite side of the field where the outside receiver is already well covered.

Callahan makes a nice adjustment to attempt to make a play on the ball this time, doing just enough to disrupt the pass in-flight resulting in an incompletion on a pass that could easily have been a touchdown.

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Callahan made another great play in the red zone in Week 5 against the Indianapolis Colts. It’s 3rd and goal on the Chicago 2-yard line. Callahan is lined up in man coverage opposite Chester Rogers (#80), the outside receiver in the Colts’ three wide side to the left. As soon as the ball is snapped, Rogers cuts directly inside on a slant and Callahan goes with him as (#15) Phillip Dorsett runs an immediate out-route trying to create a “rub” play. But as soon as Rogers receives the pass Callahan makes a great tackle and gives Rogers no chance of even stretching for the end zone, driving him back and into the turf.

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The Bears are currently 12th in the NFL in pass defense, giving up 227.6 yards per game. Having a cornerback who can tackle as well as Callahan has certainly helped. He has good technique and is not afraid to get physical in run support and with his tackling. He can play outside and in the slot which give the Bears opportunities to match him up with different receivers that he can win one on one match-ups against.

Coming into this season the Bears had a talented front seven, but the secondary was a concern as the expected improvement in fellow cornerback Kyle Fuller didn’t happen after his promising rookie year. Callahan suffered a hamstring injury in the Week 5 loss to the Colts that doesn’t at this point figure to be serious, but he has worked hard to get to this point, taking his opportunity head-on. Callahan looks like a player the Bears defense can rely on, and could be a potential star in the making.

Follow Justin on Twitter @JustinTwell78. Check out his work here, including on how the Detroit Lions will fare without Megatron, the elite Minnesota Vikings’ linebacker corps, the potential for a breakout season from the Chicago Bears’ Eddie Goldman, and how the return of Jordy Nelson helps the Packers.

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All film courtesy of NFL Game Pass

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