Bears

Bears DB coach Ed Donatell looks to get quality from quantity

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Bears DB coach Ed Donatell looks to get quality from quantity

If you check out the Bears roster right now, there are eight cornerbacks, eight safeties, and Deiondre Hall, whom they’ll try at safety but isn’t necessarily not a cornerback anymore, either.

Veteran defensive backs coach Ed Donatell was not given the supposed top cornerbacks on the free agent market, Stephon Gilmore and A.J. Bouye. But between free agency, the draft and a waiver wire pickup, he currently has six new faces in the secondary.

“I think we’ve got a group of guys that are gonna push each other and mold us into a nice unit,” Donatell said after Saturday’s Rookie Minicamp. “ It’s kind of on us to come through as a position group and when you become close as a group, that’s what we’re looking to do right now. We don’t look all the way to September, we’re looking at right now. I relish the challenge of us doing that, and it’s very doable. We have all kinds of good parts to put together, but there’s a lot of work to be done. Motivation is never a problem as a coach when you have that kind of competition.

“I love it. My biggest thing is to probe, and interview and find out what you know, who taught you. I’ll tap into all kinds of other guys’ good coaching. It’s an art, and a positive thing – not just your own stuff. Thinking off what they already know and fill in the rest. It’s an assessment, is what you do.”

And Donatell’s familiar working with new faces, and getting them to mold quickly. The evidence is in his time at San Francisco, although the 49ers had a much more star-studded front seven in front of them.

“We brought in Carlos Rogers who was a highly-drafted guy that hadn’t played to expectations. Donte Whitner was a highly-drafted guy. We brought in Perrish Cox, Tracy Porter who maybe didn’t have his hottest year the year before. They’re all different. But the guys that have success `buy in.’ And they get hitched up to what you’re doing. When they get hitched up, the probability’s very good (to have a good season).”

The proof: Rogers was a No. 9 overall pick by Washington who managed just eight interceptions in six seasons. In the first of his three seasons in San Francisco, he had six picks in 2011, when he made the Pro Bowl, and was second-team All-Pro. Cox, a fifth round pick in Denver in 2010, joined the Niners four years later and had five interceptions that fist season, after one the previous three years. And Whitner, a number eight overall pick by Buffalo in 2006, made two Pro Bowls from 2011 through 2013 with San Francisco.

Here are some quick Donatell thoughts on his secondary personnel, both new and returning:

Marcus Cooper

“He was a long press corner that we liked who was a good player at Rutgers with good size and speed. We tried to keep him (after the Niners drafted him in th seventh round) but he was taken off our practice squad. Was definitely a guy that we saw for the future. He went and got some good coaching in other places, and now he made the circle back.

“He was mature beyond his years as a young player and I’m not surprised his play spiked at his next couple places. He’s very serious about his trade and that usually leads to improvement. He was very serious. The only thing that mattered to him was football and meetings and how he’s progressing. He’s very detailed.”

Prince Amukamara

“We’ve got an experienced guy who’s played in playoff games. He’s got speed, explosion. But we start looking for career bests. So right now we’re looking to do the best things he’s done, put `em together and that’s what we’re shooting for.”

Kyle Fuller

“I expect him to get back in there and compete. The essence of it is he’s been off a full year as far as games go. So we’ve gotta get his health back, and he’s heading that way, and get him back into things.”

Cre’Von LeBlanc

“He has a lot of the things that don’t get measured. Numbers don’t measure his instincts, how he sees the ball when it’s in flight. Numbers don’t measure how tough he is. You can’t find that measuring stick. He’s a very gritty young man, and he’ll make our team better.”

[MORE BEARS: Multiple routes for Mitch Trubisky to Bears starting QB]

Quentin Demps

“He’s really into it. He’ll bring his veteran experience and he’s coming off his best year. We want to repeat that and maybe take it up one step. Right now, he’s on a proper path and things are very positive for him. He sees well in the deep part of the field. After the ball’s snapped, this guy can see how things are moving, through traffic and that allows him to find the ball.”

Deiondre’ Hall

“It creates versatility. It stretches him a little bit as a young guy. I like that. He was a guy that could see downfield (while playing safety at Northern Iowa), and could track the ball. I felt some good instincts from the back end of the defense going forward. He’s a developing football player. I can paint a picture of him playing corner, paint another picture of him at safety. He was a young guy that was coming on, and it’s just unfortunate (the ankle injury that sidelined him), because he could’ve gotten some great experience down the stretch.”

Eddie Jackson

“There’s versatility. When guys come into (the NFL), it’s such a pass game, a cover game, that guys with corner experience really helps. Many times you’re playing with three corners out there, with all the sets and the athletic ability of tight ends. They’re almost wide receivers. So we need guys who can cover. He’s done that. I also like the level of ball that he played. They get great training there (at Alabama). Nick Saban was a doggone DB coach and he’s still got his hands in it, so those guys come in here really trained well for this level.”

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

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For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

The news on Tuesday wasn’t really any sort of surprise: Brian Urlacher being selected as a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Some of the immediate thoughts were, however, for one writer who covered Brian from the day he was drafted on through the unpleasant end of his 13-year career as a Bear.

Good thoughts, though. Definitely good.

The first was a flashback, to a Tuesday in late August 2000 when the ninth-overall pick of the draft, who’d been anointed the starting strong-side linebacker by coach Dick Jauron on draft day, was benched.

It happened up at Halas Hall when Urlacher all of a sudden wasn’t running with the 1’s. Rosie Colvin was in Urlacher’s spot with the starters and would be for a few games into the 2000 season. I caught up with Brian before he walked, in a daze, into Halas Hall after practice and asked about what I’d just seen.

"I'm unhappy with the way I'm playing and I'm sure they are, too," Urlacher said. "I don't think I've been playing very well so that's probably the cause for it right there. I just don't have any technique. I need to work on my technique, hands and feet mostly. I've got to get those down, figure out what I'm doing. I know the defense pretty good now, just don't know how to use my hands and feet."

Urlacher, an All-American safety at New Mexico but MVP of the Senior Bowl in his first game at middle linebacker, had been starting at strong side, over the tight end, because coaches considered it a simpler position for Urlacher to master. But he was not always correctly aligned before the snap, did not use his hands against blockers effectively and occasionally led with his head on tackles. His benching cost him the chance to be the first Bears rookie linebacker since Dick Butkus to start an Opening Day.

It also was the first time in his football life that Urlacher could remember being demoted.

"It's not a good feeling," he said. "I definitely don't like getting demoted but I know why I am. I just have to get better."

Coaches understood what they were really attempting, subsequently acknowledged privately that the SLB experiment was a mistake. While the strong-side slot may have been simpler than the other two principally because of coverage duties, "we're trying to force-feed the kid an elephant," then-defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.

"So you see him gag and what do you do? You give him the Heimlich maneuver, you take some of it out of his mouth, try to chop it up into smaller pieces. He's going to devour it and be a great football player. But he wouldn't be if we choked him to death."

Urlacher didn’t choke and eventually became the starter, not outside, but at middle linebacker when Barry Minter was injured week two at Tampa Bay.

We sometimes don’t fully know the import or significance at the time we’re witnessing something. Urlacher stepping in at middle linebacker was not one of those times – you knew, watching him pick up four tackles in basically just the fourth quarter of a 41-0 blowout by the Bucs.

That was the beginning. Over the years came moments like Urlacher scooping up a Michael Vick fumble in the 2001 Atlanta game and going 90 yards with Vick giving chase but not catching him. Lots of those kinds of moments.

And then cutting to the ending, in 2013, when he and the organization came to an acrimonious parting after GM Phil Emery managed to alienate the face of the franchise both with the one-year contract offer and the way it was handled. Butkus had a nasty separation at the end of his Bears years, too, and Bill George finished his career as a Los Angeles Ram after creating the middle linebacker position as a Bear. Maybe that’s just how Bears and some of their linebackers wind up their relationships.

In any case, while there is no cheering in the pressbox, the hope here is that Brian goes into the Hall in a class with Ray Lewis in their first years of eligibility. Somehow that just seems like it all should close out for that confused kid from New Mexico who lost his first job out of college, but responded to that by becoming one of the all-time greats in his sport.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Who deserves the most blame for Bears losses?

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Who deserves the most blame for Bears losses?

Mark Potash (Chicago Sun-Times), Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000) and Kevin Fishbain (The Athletic) join Kap on the panel. It’s another losing season for the Bears. So who deserves the most blame: Ryan Pace, John Fox or the players? Plus Mark Schanowski drops by to talk about the Bulls future and if the Celtics will win the East.