Following an injury filled career, the Chicago Bears have allowed their defensive inspirational leader Mike Brown to sign with the Kansas City Chiefs. This has left a big hole in the secondary, that may not be filled quite as effectively as the Bears hope.
The Bears did manage to bring in some veteran help to try to fix the gaps left at the safety position, including former New Orleans Saints' safety Josh Bullocks, as well as draft pick Al Afalava, which they will hope to get some good production out of these new acquisitions.
But this group of safeties is one of the biggest question marks on the team and needs to be solidified during training camp. Do the Bears have the tools to properly address this problem?
The following is a look at each player at the safety position that the Bears will take into training camp this summer. There is a quick look back at what they did in 2008, a look at how their offseason has progressed, and a look ahead as to where each player should end up at the end of training camp.
Almost every sign this offseason pointed to Craig Steltz taking over one of the starting positions at safety.
It appears as if that will happen, thanks to some injuries in the secondary. Steltz saw some action in 2008 and played well when called upon, but he still has a lot to learn about the position.
Physically he is very capable of playing the safety position and he does well in run support, but he also has some shortcomings in the passing game. Hopes are high that Steltz will be able to become a solid starter and he could quite possibly become one of the best, if not the best, safety on the team.
Al Afalava is a rookie out of Oregon State who has a chance to make the active roster this season, that is, if he can prove his worth on special teams first and then as a backup second.
Afalava is a promising talent, but with the talent ahead of him, it may be difficult for him to make it on the active roster. However, if he can prove his value as a strong special teamer, his chances of making the final roster will be much better.
Look for him to either just make or just miss making the active roster and if he does miss making it, he should wind up on the Bear's practice squad.
Josh Bullocks signed during the offseason and will compete for a starting spot.
Hopefully, after a rough go in New Orleans, a change of scenery will do him good. He has some solid skills and ability, but he hasn’t been able to really put things together just yet.
The hopes are high that he will be able to do this in Chicago and help make up for weaknesses that may be present at the safety position in 2009. Look for Bullocks to make an impact on the team in 2009 and quite possibly end up competing with Steltz for the starting role at that safety spot.
Dahana Deleston, a rookie out of Connecticut, is a promising prospect that has turned a few heads in offseason activities.
Deletson could have a promising future with the Bears at some point, but it may not be this season. Deleston is not going to make the active roster this year, but he could be a good candidate for the practice squad and could very well be a name seen around Chicago for the next year or two.
Kevin Payne should end up being one of the starters at the safety position, providing he can maintain the solid play that he displayed at times during the 2008 season.
He had a good season last year, starting every game and made a definitive positive impact in the secondary. Payne will remain an important part of the secondary this season too and could end up being one of the most solid and important performers of that group in 2009.
Manning has had an interesting season in 2008 and promises to be an important part of the Bears defense and special teams in 2009. Manning has gone back and forth between safety and cornerback in the past but it looks like he will stay at the safety position this season and could even earn a starting spot. However, much like what happened with Devin Hester last year in making his transition from being a kick return specialist to wide receiver, the Bears don’t want to see Manning lose his edge when having to play two positions. Right now, he is needed at safety as much as he is in kickoff returns so the Bears will want to be sure that he doesn’t get worn out playing both positions. As Manning is prone to making mistakes, he will have to be sure to keep his head on a swivel and keep an eye out for anything and everything that affects his position and the defense. If he can remain healthy, which has also been a problem for him in the past, he could have a fine year at safety and could end up the starter by the time the season starts.
The Bears are shaky at the safety position and hopes are high that Steltz will be able to come through, remain healthy, and play very well. The depth behind both Payne and Steltz is in question and the Bears may not know exactly what they have, until the end of training camp this summer.
At any rate, the safety position will be under a microscope by the coaching staff and fans alike, as the Bears need all the help on defense they can get. They don’t need any failure from this position in 2009.