The Bears secondary was under a lot of scrutiny at this time last year, even though they had added former starter Chris Harris (from the Panthers) and had brought in some depth at the cornerback position by adding former Indianapolis Colts starter Tim Jennings. It seemed as though this secondary would fail and fail big time.
Chicago’s secondary had struggled in 2009 because they didn’t have the horses up front (on the defensive line) to rush the passer and thus keep the pressure off the secondary. Things would change in 2010 following the acquisition of Julius Peppers, who ended up putting enough pass pressure on the quarterback (along with Israel Idonije) to help keep some of the pressure off of the secondary and not force the secondary to sit and cover as long as they had to the previous season.
This took a lot of pressure off of those guys and masked some of their deficiencies.
Chicago did not do much to add some depth to the secondary aside for bring in safety Chris Conte in the draft. Conte may be much more of a special teams player than anything else, although the Bears seem to think he could be a starter some day. That is the only player added of any significance aside from some minor talent, including K.J Gerard. Other than that, it’s the same crew from 2010.
The Bears did get some good production and play out of the cornerback position last year, even though there were some obvious (and costly) breakdowns at times. Zack Bowman lost his starting job in the third game of the season to Jennings because of Bowman’s problems making tackles. Charles Tillman was less effective covering receivers (see his performance against Mike Williams of the Seattle Seahawks last season), but he could still cause fumbles and may be close to having to be replaced.
The Bears liked what they saw in D.J. Moore last year at the nickel back position, and he has the inside track playing there again in 2011. The coaching staff also seems to be pretty impressed with what they have seen in last year’s draft pick Joshua Moore, so he should see some additional opportunities on the field this coming season.
The Bears do have K.J. Gerard, but he will end up being just a training camp body that will have to do a lot to make the team. Corey Graham is a free agent and may or may not be back with the Bears, but if he is, he will spend his time concentrating on special teams more than playing cornerback for the Bears.
Expect Major Wright to play a much larger role as a starter next year provided he can stay healthy enough to play. He’s exactly what the Bears want at the safety position and in limited action, while he did have some breakdowns, he looked very good and should be one of their starters there in the future.
Chris Harris will be their starter, and they may sprinkle in Conte at some points during the season depending on how they feel he is coming along. Harris may suffer breakdowns in coverage from time to time, but he is the Bears best bet there and has at least one more good season left in him.
It doesn’t appear as if the Bears are going to keep Josh Bullocks around again next season unless they have an injury at the safety position. Bullocks will be a free agent and hasn’t really done much more than play on special teams and with the addition of Conte (as well as with the fact that he is a free agent), he may not be around in 2011.
Craig Steltz may also be a victim of the numbers game this season after having a pretty unimpressive career with the Bears. He had been slotted in as a starter at one point during his time with the team, but things just never panned out and he’s been on special teams ever since. Consider him as a fringe player that may or may not make the active roster.
The Bears may end up losing Danieal Manning in free agency this season, and while that may not seem like too much of a loss for them (expect perhaps on special teams), they will miss his athleticism and his experience. The Bears will put Wright in, and hopefully he will be able to have a good season in his second year with the team.
Hopefully, not adding any depth at the cornerback position doesn’t come back to hurt the Bears this coming season. They will be light at the position, just like they were last season, but they were blessed with good health and didn’t need the depth. They may not be so lucky with that this year, so hopefully what depth they have will be able to get them through in case of injury.
Chicago may lose a lot of talent at the safety position this offseason if Manning signs with another team in free agency and if they lose Steltz and Bullocks. It’s likely that they will keep Steltz around to help keep some of that depth at the safety position and use Conte sparingly to start and then more on known running downs than passing downs.
Hopefully Conte will be able to contribute this season.