LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Revolutions per minute, or RPMs, are used to measure how fast a machine operates at any given time. Often throughout Kyler Gordon's rookie season, the cornerback's engine went into overdrive.
The Chicago Bears asked a lot of their top draft pick (No. 39 overall), who started 14 games in 2022. There were times Gordon took reps with the first-, second- and third-team units in training camp while rotating between multiple positions.
He sought to make every play, to be everywhere. Sometimes, he was the outside corner, while other packages required him to be at the nickel. Most times, he'd vacillate between the two positions in the same game.
"Last year, everything was just in a frenzy because he wants to please, he wants to do, he wants to be so good," Bears defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. "You can see when a guy can relax and go out there -- and we call it the RPMs -- that his RPMs are not always in the red all the time. So then, if they're not in the red all the time, he's mentally alert but is physically relaxed in how he's playing now."
Gordon felt the weight of that workload in his legs. He knew the reps he was getting were invaluable and that the lessons absorbed from the trial by fire would eventually pay off.
"I do feel extremely comfortable," Gordon said. "I feel like I know my place, where I'm supposed to be and stuff like that, so definitely coming back this second year, I definitely don't have any of the 'where am I?' like I did the first year."
The best fit for Gordon is at nickel, where he is taking most of his offseason reps. The Bears say they'll continue to play Gordon at outside corner to keep his feet wet in the event an injury requires him to move positions, but being able to hone his skill set at the nickel is helping Gordon streamline the jump the organization believes he’ll make in Year 2.
"He's a good blitzer because he's physical, understands the timing, understands how to beat a block," cornerbacks coach Jon Hoke said. "He understands the concepts that he's being attacked with. Those things are all pluses with him."
At the conclusion of his rookie season, Gordon watched every Bears game two or three times. He zeroed in on how he was reading a play or gaffes in communication with the other defensive backs, especially during his early starts, when he felt he could have been better.
"I feel like there were some things [where] I definitely wouldn't align like that or do it like that again," Gordon said.
Gordon's rookie season was highlighted by three interceptions and marked improvement as the season progressed. After the first eight weeks, Gordon's yards allowed per game decreased from 62 to 49.8, while his missed tackle rate dropped from 17% to 12%. He went from allowing 4.9 catches to 4 per game during that same stretch (Weeks 9-18).
That was all while learning how to operate with his RPMs in manageable territory.
"I felt like once my RPMs were really high, I was using way more energy," Gordon said. "Being more calm and just being more efficient with the stuff I do allows me to have that energy still in my body to use it for whatever I want to instead of just wasting it."
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Bears' defense allowed 9.7 yards per target to wide receivers last season, a half-yard worse than any other defense in the league. Chicago allowed 5.9 yards after catch per reception, which ranked 30th.
That led Chicago to draft Tyrique Stevenson with the No. 56 pick and Terell Smith in the fifth round. Stevenson will compete to play outside corner, likely opposite Jaylon Johnson, who said Thursday on ESPN Radio's "Keyshawn, JWill and Max" that he will "for sure" be in attendance next week at OTAs after missing the offseason program. Johnson, a 2020 second-round pick, is eligible for a contract extension.
Having teammates capable of manning both outside corner positions means Gordon's plate won't be as full in his second season. The responsibilities that come with playing the nickel still hold immense difficulty, but the confidence he's building in mastering the position is noticeable.
"That nickel position is a hard position," coach Matt Eberflus said. "You do a lot of different things in there, a lot of different techniques. Things happen fast in there. You have to fit the run. So there's a lot of things that you have to do in there as a football player and we're fortunate to have him in there."