Sometimes very significant things go unnoticed because of what didn't happen rather than what did. Such was the case with the Bears’ secondary in Sunday’s 22-20 win over the Oakland Raiders.
What did happen was losing veteran safety and leader Antrel Rolle to an ankle injury, sending him to the sidelines. What didn’t happen was the Oakland offense, which was held to 243 yards, matching the low (Minnesota, last Nov. 16) since the Lance Briggs/Julius Peppers/Charles Tillman/Brian Urlacher defense held the Houston Texans to 215 back in Nov. 2012.
Much is made of how the important and difficult it is to achieve the necessary synchronization within the offensive line. A close second in that regard is the defensive backfield, where signals are exchanged, players need to know each other’s ranges, tendencies and capabilities, and the Bears achieved something unusual under pressure Sunday.
With the Bears facing the abyss of an 0-4 start, and with Rolle out, they were dealing with wide receivers who were No. 4 (Amari Cooper) and No. 10 (Michael Crabtree) picks in their drafts and the AFC’s leading rusher (Latavius Murray) using two rookie safeties (Adrian Amos, Harold Jones-Quartey) and a cornerback (Tracy Porter) who was inactive and injured for the first two games with a hamstring problem.
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Putting this in another, deeper perspective: In the win over Oakland, three of the Bears’ four starting defensive backs, including cornerback Kyle Fuller, were rookies or one-year players.
Except that Amos has begun to play like anything but a rookie. Rolle himself singled out Amos in the locker room after the Oakland game for the latter’s taking charge and leadership role in a first-time collection of defensive backs and coaches echoed the sentiments.
“Adrian Amos I think just gets better every week,” coach John Fox said. “He did a great job communicating to the corners. We had a lot of different things we were doing from a coverage standpoint, that you need that communication. I think it just stepped him up a little bit. I think he’s more experienced as a rookie than Harold is, but I think he had to pick his game up some, especially from a communication standpoint, making sure Harold knew what he was doing and the corners involved on the field at that time.”
Porter, a 2008 second-round draft choice by New Orleans when general manager Ryan Pace was in player personnel there and who played for the Denver Broncos and Fox in 2012, drew the assignment of locking down Cooper, already a force after just a handful of games.
“I obviously have a lot of faith in his abilities, having coached him before,” Fox said. “I think the issue there was he had a hamstring injury. For ‘skill’ people those aren’t easy things to get over. They’re hard to put time limits on. So I think once he was healthy we were excited to get him back for sure.”
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Perhaps the performances and overall level of play in the defensive back end shouldn’t be a complete surprise, owing in some measure to the level of coaching that has been in evidence even back in the early stages of the offseason. Besides defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, one of the major hires on the Fox staff was longtime secondary coach Ed Donatell, who was Fangio’s defensive backs coach in San Francisco and is himself a former defensive coordinator.
Add to that assistant defensive backs coach Sam Garnes, who played for Fox from 1997-2001 while the latter was defensive coordinator for the New York Giants. Garnes started 105 games as a player and also was with Fox in Carolina and Denver, meaning he knows extremely well Fox’s concepts and approach. You have the sense that Fox could start a sentence and Garnes could walk in the room cold and finish it.
“I think Harold just got here, I think, two weeks ago,” Fox said. “Primarily we put him on ‘fourth down’ or special teams. Sam Garnes and Ed Donatell, our secondary coaches, felt good about the guy. He’s smart, he works at it. So that was pretty admirable, too.”