Chicago Bears: How tight end Jimmy Graham is improving the defense

Chicago Bears tight end Jimmy Graham proving to be a great test for the defense

The day Jimmy Graham signed a two-year, $16 million deal with the Chicago Bears, there was a bit of an outcry among fans, on whether that amount of money could’ve been better spent elsewhere. If the early training camp stories hold any weight, Graham is proving to be worth every penny.

As likely written in the job description, Graham is poised to make life easier on the Bears’ cellar-dwelling offense. But according to Bears’ team captain and Pro Bowl safety Eddie Jackson, he’s making life and preparation easier for the defense, as well.

“Being that vocal guy for the younger guys and tight ends, and just him being around and being in the game for so long, it’s a lot of different things that he’s done that I haven’t really seen in practice, going up against other tight ends.”

During their piece on the Bears discussing the first padded practice, Lauren Screeden made note of how much of a welcome challenge it was for Chicago’s defense to adjust to life in defending a 6-foot-7 tight end. Though no longer the All-Pro force of nature he once was, Jimmy Graham could step on the field once in 2020, tie his cleat laces, and be better than anything the team had in all of 2019.

And in theory, it’s sort of a different line of thinking. If one looks back at some of the games Chicago lost last season, their struggles in defending bigger tight ends were a hidden variable.

In the make-or-break stretch in the middle of the season, two instances — Zach Ertz’s 9-catch, 103-yard masterpiece in Philly’s 22-14 win over Chicago, and Hunter Henry’s production in the second half of the Chargers-Bears game — immediately come to mind.

The Bears struggled versus the tight end horribly last season

In 2019, NFL offenses seemed to know this would be a sweet spot too. They targeted tight ends 130 times against Chicago, good for the No. 4 spot in the league. They also ranked tied for fourth in catches (96), and No. 9 in yards (886). The only benefit was that the Bears seldom allowed tight ends to get into the end zone last season.

The theorist in me wants to believe the Bears would’ve been better prepared to combat tight end success in-game if they were facing proven tight ends in practice. That hypothesis will be put to the test in the next month. But in 2018, one of the calling cards for that historic defense came in how well they defended tight ends.

The former five-time Pro Bowler will give them a solid simulation of what to expect. Last season, he caught 38 passes for 447 yards and 3 TDs, and is already generating quite the rave for dominating this morning’s padded practice.

For Graham, one of the tallest tight ends in the NFL, he’d better be prepared to limbo. After last season, the bar is set so low for what will be defined as a “successful season” for a Chicago Bears tight end. But in considering the first few days of training camp, he’s poised to do his trademark hurdle right over those expectations.