Buster Skrine Finds a Better Slot Fit in Bears Defense
Safety Tashaun Gipson had to explain the Buster Skrine jersey he had on his wall at home earlier this year while he was doing a Zoom conference call with Chicago media.
If someone in New York had seen the jersey—particularly a Jets fan—they might have wondered about Gipson's judgment.
"You know, me and Buster go way back," Gipson said. "Buster is kind of like a brother to me. He's probably the closest guy that I have in the National Football League. Me and Buster go way back to when we were two special team gunners together back in Cleveland in 2012.
"To see his career take off and to see him achieve the things he has, I couldn't be happier for him. Buster has been a stand-up guy my whole life. I'm excited to be able to come here and play with Buster, for sure."
"Stand-up guy", "career taking off" and "achieving things" were not phrases Jets fans heaped on Skrine when the Bears signed their slot cornerback as a free agent last year.
Good riddance and vulgarities and jokes about penalties or getting burned seemed more likely based on social media comments, anyway.
Skrine has had the last laugh it seems, as he has played better within the scheme of a better defense. It wasn't exactly the kind of banner year that makes you scream "how do you like me now?" It was successful, nonetheless.
Sure, Skrine got burned for four touchdown passes last year, the same number as when he played in 2018 for the Jets. However, his passer rating against improved by almost 14 points to 91.8 in Chicago, while his completion percentage allowed came down by 6% to 59.3.
The biggest improvement for Skrine was going from being a double-digit penalty guy each year to being flagged for only two penalties with the Bears. He came to Chicago with 78 career flags.
One of the penalties with the Bears was for 1 yard on an extra point offsides. The other was a declined pass interference penalty, so he cost the Bears 1 yard in flags last year.
Skrine did this while playing in an unfamiliar defensive system for the first time since going to the Jets in 2015, and did it at age 30.
Now at 31, he'll be playing a position which seems better suited to younger players because of the demands it places on covering receivers from two different sides.
It doesn't necessarily have to be the case, though. Green Bay's Tramon Williams played it at 36 years old last year and recorded a 79.3 passer rating against. So it can be done.
Skrine has brought along one other asset the Jets might not have seen and that's an ability to mentor younger players. He did it with sixth-round slot cornerback protege Duke Shelley last year, and has already started on Zoom calls with rookie Kindle Vildor.
Skrine had some advice for both when they come in to start camp without an offseason of on-field work, the same situation he was in as a rookie.
"One is come in shape because if you're not in shape, it's going to be very hard for you to do anything and you can get injured," Skrine said. "And, 2, know your playbook. Of course they're going to have questions because they're rookies. But if you know your playbook and you can line up and just be able to execute—even if you don't make the play on the ball or if you get beat or anything like that—if you know the playbook, you'll get off to a great start.
"I feel like just being an older player in the league, smarter players make it longer in this league. Those are two tips I have for rookies."
Skrine giving tips for success might be the last thing Jets fans ever thought they'd see.
Buster Skrine at a Glance
Key Numbers: Skrine needs to be more sound in his tackling after missing 13 tackles, or 21.3% of his attempts last season.
2020 Projection: 1 interception, 7 pass defenses, six penalties.