Manning, Not Steltz, at Free Safety...For Now

Francisco E. VelazquezCorrespondent IJuly 29, 2009

CHICAGO - DECEMBER 02: Brandon McGowan #36 and Danieal Manning #38 of the Chicago Bears tackle Amani Toomer #81 of the New York Giants after Toomer made a first down catch on December 2, 2007 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Giants defeated the Bears 21-16. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Chicago Bears Head Coach Lovie Smith revealed on the team website that Danieal Manning will begin training camp at free safety with the first team. Many anticipated Craig Steltz to take the snaps with the starters in just his second year.

However, Smith also said that Manning will remain at the nickel spot in passing situations.

“Sometimes it takes players a while before they really get it and I think Danieal has gotten it where it all makes sense to him, and that’s why we’re putting him in this role right now,” Smith said.

Steltz will instead give Kevin Payne some competition for strong safety. Still, Lovie intends on having Steltz replace Manning at free safety in those nickel packages. But Manning has been adament about his preference for nickel to remain his main role.

"I really, really like nickel and just this past offseason, Coach [Lovie] Smith worked hands-on with me at nickel," Manning said.

"But I really don't know what exact type of defensive back I am. I just play football and contribute the best way I can for the team. Right now they want me to play nickel, and I'll play it. Who knows, I could play corner or safety coming up, you just never know."

Smith is obviously impressed with Manning's diversity and growth. So much so, that he insists he's made the decision in spite of Charles Tillman's recent back surgery and not because of it. 

Beyond being the other tremendous returner not named Hester, Manning has had plenty of experience at free safety. He's also done an impressive job at nickel back, even starting some games at corner.

“I’ve heard people talk about the different positions Danieal has played,” Smith said. “But that only helps you. He knows exactly what it feels like to play (corner, safety and nickel). He’s played every position in the secondary. That’s helped his football knowledge and is going to make him a better free safety.”

Manning registered 31 tackles with one sack, one interception, four pass breakups, and 11 special teams-tackles last season.