As a free agent in 2012, Corey Graham didn't want to return to Chicago.
In six seasons, Graham was never seen as anything but a special teams player with the Bears. Even when he held his own when the Bears needed him to play cornerback in games, Graham could never get meaningful playing time. It's the biggest reason why he left for Baltimore.
Last year during training camp, Graham opened the season on the second team but was one of the more noticeable players on the field. It seemed like he was getting an interception each practice.
Graham got his first opportunity for extended playing time when Lardarius Webb tore his ACL in Week 6. Then Jimmy Smith suffered a sports hernia injury. That placed Graham into a starter's role, one he didn't relinquish the rest of the season.
That would seemingly give him the upper hand in this year's preseason battle. Graham's competition is with Smith, a former first-round pick out of Colorado in 2011. The left corner position is already decided with Lardarius Webb manning the spot.
Smith didn't do himself any favors with a poor performance against the Falcons last Thursday. He'll still have a chance to earn the spot over the next two weeks.
One thing about the cornerback position is that the top three will play a good bit. With the NFL passing a bunch, defenses need the nickel defense more than ever. But as Smith stated earlier this preseason, there's an element of pride involved in knowing you're a starter in base packages.
Why Graham should start: Graham has been the most consistent of the two throughout the preseason. Sure, like any corner of any caliber, Graham has given up some plays here and there. But when he has, he's been in good position and displays the proper technique. However, Graham gives up some size to bigger receivers, as he's listed at 6-0, 196 pounds. Graham has the speed and quickness to prevent being burned badly and possesses ideal instincts needed at corner.
Why Smith should start: He's the former first-round pick with tons of potential. But how will he ever live up to that potential if he's not placed in game situations? At 6-2, 210 pounds, he can jam receivers at the line and throw them off of their routes. Then again, there are times where he doesn't play as physical as he's capable of. As mentioned, he had a horrible game against Atlanta last week, which saw Julio Jones win each contested one-on-one battle. Even so, there's still plenty to like in Smith's game.
Prediction: By the end of the preseason, Graham runs away with the second cornerback spot. It's hard to discount someone that brings the same kind of consistent play day in and day out. Smith is almost there as a starting cornerback and will get every opportunity a year from now to be the No. 2 corner in the base defense. Smith will also be the right cornerback in nickel situations, with Graham sliding inside to cover the slot. Smith will see plenty of playing time this year, though Graham will be considered the second starter at the position.
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