Bears

Bears training camp capsules: Secondary

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Bears training camp capsules: Secondary

Third in a series

Half of Bears starting secondary facing stiff position battles in camp

In the Cover-2 mindset practiced by coach Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, the defensive backfield is expected to provide certain things, among them peace of mind in the back end of the defense.

Sometimes performance falls far, far short of expectations.

A turnstile situation at safety and questions at one cornerback position have the secondary on the brink of perhaps one of its most competitive training camps under Smith.

The reasons are simple. The overall pass defense was generally adequate but individual breakdowns came too often from too many players in a scheme that demands discipline and functioning within the system.

That is expected to change. Or else.

2011 in Review

Despite a pedestrian pass rush (29th in sacks per pass attempt) the Bears finished tied for sixth with 20 interceptions and seventh in yards per pass attempt, the latter being one of the bellwether indicators for a defense and the former a crucial turnover component.

Tillman was voted to his first Pro Bowl and nickel back D.J. Moore collected 4 interceptions for the second straight season.

Overall the Bears ranked fourth in the NFL in percentage of opponent possessions ending in three-and-outs, meaning the pass defense was doing something right on a lot of third downs. Since 2004 the Bears are No. 1 in the NFL in three-and-outs forced.

The defense also ranked eighth in opponent passer rating (79.3). The Bears allowed ratings above 90 for a game only six times and two of those were Aaron Rodgers, one Drew Brees and one Philip Rivers. The others were Matthew Stafford and Tavaris Jackson.

But seven of the interceptions were by linebackers (Lance Briggs 1, Brian Urlacher 3) or a player no longer here (Corey Graham 3).

It also was a year marked with what can only be termed as chaos in the deep regions. The Bears had six different safety combinations in the first seven games and eight for the year.

Chris Harris, brought back in 2010 to give a veteran presence at the back end of the defense, was cut midway through the season after repeated disasters. Brandon Meriweather started four games, just enough to show why Bill Belichick excused him from New England after a Pro Bowl season. Injuries to Chris Conte and Major Wright added to the problems.

Tillman had a superb season at right cornerback but Tim Jennings was replaced by Zackary Bowman for game 15 after managing just one interception through the first 14 (he recorded his second INT the following week).

The net was a year that sent the organization looking for help in the secondary (drafting safety Brandon Hardin in the third round) ahead of linebacker or defensive tackle, all positions of seemingly more immediate need.

2012 Training Camp What to Watch

Depth chart
RCB Charles TillmanJonathan Wilhite
LCB Tim JenningsKelvin Hayden
3CB D.J. Moore
FS Chris ConteBrandon Hardin
SS Major WrightCraig Steltz

Others to watch: Isaiah Frey, Greg McCoy

Conte, Moore and Tillman are set going into training camp. Moore has emerged as a playmaker in his spot role and another solid year with four interceptions will enhance his value going into free agency.

After that

Cornerback

The left-corner job is Jennings to lose but the Bears signed Hayden to a one-year deal, meaning he will be highly motivated, and he fits the big-corner model that facing the Packers and Lions receivers demand.

The telling point through camp is expected to be takeaways, one area that coaches wanted more of from Jennings last year. Hayden, however, played in only eight games for Atlanta last season, with one start, so is in need of a jump-restart for his career.

The Bears used their last two draft choices on cornerbacks, with Isaiah Frey from Nevada in the sixth round and Greg McCoy from TCU in the seventh. Frey is 6 feet, 180 pounds and had 5 interceptions as a senior making All-WAC first team. He will not challenge for a significant role this year but has the size the Bears want against the big receivers of the NFC North.

Safety

Conte is a former cornerback who made his share of rookie mistakes but played well enough to be a virtual lock at free safety.

Wright is anything but. He has struggled with injuries since his arrival in 2010, a surprise for someone who was all but bomb-proof during his career at Florida.

But Wright has been a mild disappointment when hes managed to stay on the field. His discipline and angles have been suspect inconsistent, more a product of over-thinking at times and over-reacting at others.

If Wright stumbles, the Bears have options. Hardin will get a serious look, but not to be overlooked is Steltz, who re-signed with the Bears this offseason after starting five games last season, including the last four.

Recalling moments in Tom Brady history ahead of his likely last meeting with Bears

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Recalling moments in Tom Brady history ahead of his likely last meeting with Bears

As Tom Brady approaches what in all reasonable likelihood will be his last game against the Bears and in Soldier Field, the first time this reporter saw Tom Brady comes very much to mind. Actually the first times, plural. Because they were indeed memorable, for different reasons.

That was back in 2001, when Brady should have started replacing Wally Pipp as the poster athlete for what can happen when a player has to sit out and his replacement never gives the job back. Drew Bledsoe, who’d gotten the New England Patriots to a Super Bowl, had gotten injured week two of that season. Brady, who’d thrown exactly one pass as a rookie the year before, stepped in and never came out, playing the Patriots into the AFC playoffs the same year the Bears were reaching and exiting the NFC playoffs when Philadelphia’s Hugh Douglas body-slammed QB Jim Miller on his shoulder.

After that the playoff assignments were elsewhere, including the Patriots-Steelers meeting in Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship. Brady started that game but left with an ankle injury and Bledsoe came off the bench to get the Patriots into Super Bowl.

Then came one of those rare moments when you are witnessing history but have the misfortune of not knowing it at the time.

The question of Super Bowl week was whether Bill Belichick would stay with Bledsoe’s winning hand or go back to Brady. Belichick of course waited deep into Super Bowl week before announcing his decision at 8 p.m. on a Thursday night, the second time that season Belichick had opted to stay with Brady over a healthy Bledsoe. And of course Belichick didn’t announce the decision himself (surprise); he had it put out by the team’s media relations director.

You did have to respect Belichick, though, going into his first Super Bowl as a head coach with a sixth-round draft choice at quarterback and leaving a former (1992) No. 1-overall pick with a $100-million contract on the bench. The Patriots upset The Greatest Show on Turf Rams in that Super Bowl, Brady was MVP, and Bledsoe was traded to Buffalo that offseason.

History.

That Super Bowl also included one of those performance snapshots the Bears envision for Mitch Trubisky but missed a chance to let him attempt last Sunday at Miami in his 17th NFL start. Brady took the Patriots on a drive starting at their own 17 with 1:30 to play and no timeouts, ending with an Adam Vinatieri field-goal winner.

If Belichick was all right letting his second-year quarterback in just his 17th start throw eight straight passes starting from inside his own red zone, the next time Matt Nagy gets the football at his own 20 with timeouts and time in hand, best guess is that the decision will be to see if his quarterback lead a game-winning drive with his arm instead of handing off.

It may not happen this Sunday. Brady is a career 4-0 vs. Bears, and if there is one constant it is that his opposite numbers play really bad football against him, or rather his coach’s defense. Bears quarterback passer ratings opposite Brady, even in years when the Bears were good: Jim Miller 51.2 in 2002, Rex Grossman 23.7 in 2006; Jay Cutler 32.9 and Cutler again in the 51-23 blowout in Foxboro. Cutler finished that game with a meaningless 108.6 rating, meaningless because Cutler put up big numbers beginning when his team was down 38-7 after he’d mucked about with a 61.7 rating, plus having a fumble returned for a TD, while the Bears were being humiliated.

A surprise would be if Trubisky bumbles around like his predecessors (New England allows an average opponent passer rating of 91.6), but whether he can produce a third straight 120-plus rating…. Then again, Pat Mahomes put a 110.0 on the Patriots last Sunday night, but Deshaun Watson managed only a 62.9 against New England in game one.

Trubisky will make the third of the three 2017 first-round QB’s to face the Patriots. The first two lost.

Bulls Talk Podcast: The ultimate Bulls briefing to get you ready for Opening Night

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Bulls Talk Podcast: The ultimate Bulls briefing to get you ready for Opening Night

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski sits down with Kendall Gill and Will Perdue to discuss all the need-to-know topics to get you ready for the season opener. The guys analyze how Lauri’s injury will make its mark on the early season rotation, whether Jabari will return to the starting unit or embrace the 6th-man role and why Portis betting on himself is the right move. Plus, Kendall has the key to unlock a “6th Man of the Year” award for Portis this season.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below: