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Matt Eberflus came from Indianapolis with an established track record of success on defense. So it was hardly a surprise when he brought over most of his staff from that team to Chicago, some of them with well-deserved promotions. While Alan Williams gets most of the attention as the new defensive coordinator, perhaps the most unheralded addition is new defensive back coach James Rowe.
When you hear the rumbling around the NFL, his name comes up as somebody destined for bigger things. A future head coach, to be sure. It is only a matter of time. Rowe has delivered success everywhere he’s been at both the college and pro levels. Perhaps one of his best trademarks is his ability to take overlooked players and turn them into capable starters. The track record is pretty impressive.
It started back in 2016.
He was the defensive coordinator at Valdosta State then. There he uncovered the talents of a young corner named Kenny Moore. Rowe turned him into an All-American, and Moore reunited with him in Indianapolis, where he soon became a Pro Bowler. Then in 2017, the coach joined the Washington Commanders, where he turned former undrafted free agent Quinton Dunbar from backup into a turnover machine. After just three interceptions in his first three seasons, Dunbar had six in his final two, with Rowe watching over him despite playing only 18 total games.
Rowe’s arrival is timely with the Bears sorely in need of solutions at cornerback after a rough 2021 season. Nobody may welcome it more than Thomas Graham Jr. Like Dunbar in Washington; he stands as a no-name in NFL circles. The former Oregon cornerback missed the 2020 college season due to COVID-19 and was drafted in the 6th round last year. He barely played as a rookie yet still managed four passes defended.
James Rowe has seen Graham’s type before
A favorable comparison would be Jimmy Moreland. A 7th round pick out of James Madison in 2019, he developed into an unexpected contributor as a rookie. Like Graham, he lacks size and game-breaking speed but plays tough and aggressive with good instincts for zone coverage. It was a shame they only got one year together, but Moreland still showed significant development in 2020. Graham has a chance to go a step further.
He embodies much of what this coaching staff wants. A nose for the football. He had six interceptions over his final two seasons at Oregon and came close to a couple as a rookie too. Even better, this defensive scheme fits his style of game far better than the one that left town with Sean Desai. James Rowe will allow him to play more towards his strengths of keeping plays in front of him and breaking to the football.
The rest comes down to opportunity.
Chicago seems more focused on fortifying their front seven this offseason. If that remains the case, Graham should get a real chance to compete for one of the two starting cornerback spots opposite Jaylon Johnson. If he takes Rowe’s instructions to heart, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him blossom in 2022.
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