Kyler Gordon's mindset, Bears mantra helped fuel rookie-year growth

'Keep chopping:' Inside Kyler Gordon's early rookie-year growth originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- When Kyler Gordon jumped in front of Tyquan Thornton and picked off Bailey Zappe's pass at Gillette Stadium, it was a checkpoint in the early development of the rookie corner.

Affirmation that all the work he has put in is starting to pay off.

"Really, what stood out to me was that I said, 'Just keep chopping wood,'" defensive coordinator Alan Williams said of Gordon's pick to seal the 33-14 win over the New England Patriots. "He was being killed in Game 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and that type of thing in his PFF grade or whatever it is. I don't know. Those type of things. But out on the football field, those are plays that he made over and over and over again, and just the message to him was, 'It'll come, it'll come, it'll come. Don't press. Don't push. Keep practicing well.'

"That play was just the culmination – well not the culmination – how he's been practicing (in) OTAs and camp. He's made the same play a few times, in two-minute, in 7-on-7 in team situations. So that was a function of how he's been practicing."

Gordon, who the Bears drafted with the No. 39 overall pick in the 2022 draft, struggled early on. The Bears asked the rookie to play outside corner in their base defense and then slide into the all-important nickel spot.

The first few games were tough.

In Week 2, Aaron Rodgers targeted Gordon repeatedly. The rookie gave up 10 catches for 163 yards and two touchdowns, per Pro Football Focus, in the Bears' 27-10 loss. Three weeks later, Gordon gave up nine catches for 62 yards in a loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

That's life for rookie cornerbacks in the NFL. Gordon knew there would be a learning curve. He just had to stick with his process and let his talent win out.

“For me, it’s always going to bother me because no one likes to do bad," Gordon said. "I try to keep a positive and optimistic mindset about everything because I know my standards and what I can do. It’s really just me getting there, just staying positive. I know where I’m going to be, where I’m going to get to and slowly it starts happening and chipping away and stuff like that. It’s really just a positive mindset.”

Gordon didn't beat himself up. It's natural to be frustrated when you don't live up to your own expectations. But he didn't let those frustrations fester. He processed them and discarded them.

Even as teams continued to attack him, the Bears never saw a change in his demeanor.

“I think maybe the first game he was a little bit down," cornerbacks coach James Rowe said. "But when you look around the league, it’s a tough league. These are good players, unbelievable quarterbacks. I think once he looked at it that way, and talked to some of the veterans about it, he calmed himself down and was fine after that. I never thought he was in a mental space that could hurt him.”

Things started to turn in Week 6.

Against the Washington Commanders, Gordon allowed just three catches for 13 yards. The following week against the Patriots, he gave up three catches for 18 yards while notching the interception.

Gordon is learning more with each week that comes. Digesting more information, getting more comfortable with life as an NFL corner.

“I just needed a little bit more experience, was really what I say," Gordon said. "Like I’ve been saying since the beginning, I’m going to keep taking every piece of information and growing, and obviously, we’ve all seen, I’m steadily picking up stuff as I go.

"That’s just the way I work. Whatever I experience, whatever information I take in, I try to apply it to the next game, next play. Like I said, just keep bettering myself every week.”

The Bears have seen Gordon keep chopping. The rookie continues to stack good practices, showcasing the coverage skills and high IQ that had them target him as the first draft pick of the Poles/Matt Eberflus era.

Faith in Gordon never wavered inside Halas Hall. It would be foolish to expect a rookie corner not to have bumps and bruises in Year 1. Even the best veteran corners get beat. That's the nature of the beast.

But the Bears have seen that everything is starting to click for Gordon.

“I think the game is starting to slow down a little bit for him, obviously with him playing two positions, we put a lot on his plate," Rowe said. "He’s a smart guy, he has been working at it, you know, usually for every rookie, there is some growing pains at time. Like Alan said, you just got to stick with it and trust in your process and your talent will eventually take over.”

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A simple formula helped Gordon slow things down.

You combine growing experience with meticulous film study and consistent practice habits, and eventually, everything matches up.

"I’ve been able to take a lot of time and actually look at the offense," Gordon said. "So having my eyes right and being able to know my job, my responsibility based off of what they do. Just me being able to take that extra time off the field to be able to see more of the offense, what my job is. It just gives me the ability to react and anticipate what the offense has. That’s just allowed me to really move faster.”

The Bears know that Gordon's growth won't be linear. There will be ups and downs. Ebbs and flows.

After good games against the Commanders and Patriots, Gordon gave up four catches for 68 yards against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 8.

Gordon's next test will be the toughest of his young NFL career.

The Miami Dolphins boast two of the most electric wide receivers in the NFL in Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. Hill and Waddle rank first and fourth in receiving yards this season. Waddle averages 17.3 yards per catch, while Hill averages a shade under 14 yards. Both receivers average over 3 yards of separation.

Per Football Outsiders, Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa throws 37 percent of his passes over the middle of the field, the most in the NFL. That, coupled with the Dolphins' motion-heavy offense, suggests Gordon will be tested early and often Sunday at Soldier Field.

It will be a good gauge of his progress and how far he still has to go.

“I think the past few games his confidence has been rising," Rowe said of Gordon and the interception vs. the Patriots. "Just to have that play at the end to pay it off and put an exclamation point on it.

"It’s the NFL. There will be some games where he’s have a great game and everything is fine, and some games where he struggles and will need a little pick me up. That’s just the nature of the beast.”

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