Bears

Tim Jennings’ release guarantees all-new starting secondary for Bears

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Tim Jennings’ release guarantees all-new starting secondary for Bears

When the Bears started the 2014 season, the secondary was rated a strength, particularly at cornerback. Pro Bowl’ers Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman were starting, with Kyle Fuller, a first round draft pick, as the nickel back. In a defense that could have exactly zero players in the same spots they began last season in, the entire starting secondary is assured to be new, with Alan Ball moving into Jennings’ spot and Sherrick McManis standing by as the No. 3 and nickel corner.

Indeed, three of the current four starting defensive backs were not even Bears this time a year ago.

Whether anything stays that way, which it was to open the game against the Cincinnati Bengals with rookie Adrian Amos and veteran Antrel Rolle at safety, is of course not assured. But Amos has settled in next to Rolle, and Ball, an eight-year veteran out of Illinois who has played with Dallas, Houston and Jacksonville, with 44 career starts, was signed to a one-year contract worth $3 million for a reason.

[MORE BEARS: Lessons from Bears loss to Bengals, good or bad, impossible to sort out]

“My confidence is growing,” said Ball, who adds six inches of height at the position over Jennings’ 5-8. “I’m really getting a feel for what Vic [Fangio] is doing and how he’s calling the defense.

“I’m getting a feel for what the safeties are doing; we have new additions in Antrel and Adrian over there, and Kyle at cornerback. We’ve been rotating groups and rotating guys. You get that gel between the whole group.”

The issue for Ball has been health over his recent career. He was ensconced as a starter with Houston in 2012 and Jacksonville the past two seasons but missed 15 of 48 games over those three seasons with a foot injury (2012, five games), groin strain (2013, one) and season-ending biceps injury last year (nine games.

Ball, 30, had surgery on the foot last offseason and benefited from the down-time just recovering overall health.

[MORE BEARS: Surpassed by other cornerbacks, Tim Jennings cut by Bears]

“You know part of the off-season and the preseason is getting guys ready for the regular season,” said coach John Fox. “But he's got length, I think he's played at a high level, he's adapted to our system very well and he's produced since he's been here.”

Ball, a seventh-round draft pick of the Cowboys in 2007, has six career interceptions, all over the past five seasons, and 34 pass-defenses. He also was a member of playoff teams in Dallas and Houston.

For the Bears, more than the names and faces are changing. The shuffle of players and coaches means that a group identity has yet to be forged among players, and the kind of second-nature cohesion, anticipation and familiarity are works in progress

Not a problem, nor that unusual, to Ball’s thinking.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans!]

“I think every year going in you want a new identity no matter where you are, no matter what guys you’ve got out there,” Ball said. “You’re always searching for a new identity. The team is not going to be the same from last year or the year before. Going forward, every step we take, we’re a new group no matter who’s out there. You’ve got to find your identity.

“So going forward we want to create our identity and step on the field week one and establish who we are. We’re doing it in practice piece by piece as a defense. But until we get out there week one and really do what we gotta do, that’s when you know who you are.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Who deserves the blame in the Bears loss to Miami?

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Who deserves the blame in the Bears loss to Miami?

David Haugh, Adam Jahns and Patrick Finley join Kap on the panel. The Bears lose a rough one in Miami as Matt Nagy goes conservative at the end zone. Does the rookie coach deserve all of the blame? Dave Wannstedt joins the guys to discuss.

Plus the guys discuss the Cubs’ newest hitting coach/scapegoat, Brandon Saad’s upcoming healthy scratch and Bobby Portis betting on himself this season. 

Listen here or in the embedded player below!

Akiem Hicks makes Pro Football Focus Team of the Week after strong game against Dolphins

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USA TODAY

Akiem Hicks makes Pro Football Focus Team of the Week after strong game against Dolphins

The Bears defense was not its usual self in their overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. The pass rush was minimal and tackling looked optional, and Brock Osweiler threw for almost 400 yards.

There was plenty of blame to go around, but a few individual defenders had success while their teammates struggled.

Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks made the Pro Football Focus Team of the Week for Week 6 with a 92.2 overall grade.

He recorded seven tackles that resulted in a defensive “stop,” the most of any defensive lineman according to PFF.

Chicago’s next highest-graded player was cornerback Kyle Fuller (78.2), who intercepted Osweiler twice but also missed two tackles.

Offensively, wide receiver Taylor Gabriel led the way with a 76.9 mark. PFF credited four of his five catches coming against Dolphins cornerback Torry McTyer in coverage.

Meanwhile, outside linebacker Khalil Mack had the lowest-graded game of his career (47.8), while linebacker Danny Trevathan (29.9) and safety Adrian Amos Jr. (47.5) each had their second-worst games.

Some of the Bears’ best players were at their worst in Miami. They’re going to need to get their act together for the New England Patriots on Sunday.