Vikings Assistant Head Coach Mike Pettine coached Sullivan as the Packers defensive coordinator and watched the youngster take ownership of the assignment.
“The nickel position isn’t something that had come natural to him before, but it made sense given our personnel and his skill set that he threw himself into it,” Pettine said. “He saw, ‘Hey, this is a role that I can carve out a niche for myself.’ And he’s not gonna let go of it.”
Added Sullivan: “It’s very challenging, but I love it. I found a home in it the past few years.”
The slot cornerback has become an increasingly important position over the past several years with offenses increasing their use of three or more wide receivers.
The evolution of offenses has been matched – by necessity – by the development of defenses that spend a lot less time in their base formation and a lot more in nickel (usually one fewer lineman or linebacker and an extra DB) or dime packages (six total DBs).
In Pettine’s mind, the nickel back essentially has become a starting position.
“The third corner … falls in the top 11, as far as importance, because he’s out there so much,” Pettine said.
In 2021, Sullivan played in 77 percent of Green Bay’s defensive snaps. The previous season? Seventy-one percent.
“It’s such an important position because offenses are doing a better job now of forcing the nickel, essentially, to play linebacker. Forcing them to be more involved in the run game. Whereas at outside corner, you’re kind of insulated from that a little bit,” Pettine said.
Sullivan has fully accepted that challenge.
“I see Chandon as a guy who understands it all. He knew that the run stuff was going to be important, and he really immersed himself in it and made sure he had a good understanding of it, knew where to be when he needed to be there,” Pettine said. “That guy kind of has to be a jack of all trades, but it’s such an important spot.
“It’s kind of an undervalued and underappreciated spot that I think is vital to every NFL defense,” Pettine added.