Bears positional analysis: Defensive backs

Posted March 04, 2011 @ 3:15 p.m.
Posted By Dan Parr

This is the eighth in a series of position-by-position looks at the Bears' personnel entering the 2011 offseason. The series continues with an analysis of Chicago's DB situation.

Overview: Aside from CB Charles Tillman — who has been a stalwart since he entered the league in 2003 — the Bears have mostly shuffled pieces in the defensive backfield for the past few seasons. Players have gone in and out of the starting lineup (CBs Zack Bowman and Corey Graham) and others have moved from one position to another (Danieal Manning).

It's possible Manning, who is due to become a free agent, will move on in the offseason. His asking price could be too high for the Bears, and last year's third-round pick, Major Wright, is the heir apparent at safety. Wright was pushing for a staring job heading into last season before injuries derailed his progress.

At corner, will Bowman, who was relegated to backup duty after being benched during a Week Three game, get another shot to reclaim a starting role? The coaching staff could stick with Tim Jennings, who was solid in relief of Bowman at left corner opposite Tillman.

Here's a breakdown of each of the defensive backs on the roster:

Zack Bowman: The Bears high-lowed Bowman, demoting him to the bench just three games into 2010. He had been shifted from right to left corner in camp — and the move was viewed as a promotion — but the hook came after he missed a tackle against the Packers in Week Three. It's not known if he'll get a chance to compete against Jennings to take back the starting spot.

Josh Bullocks: A backup safety, Bullocks helped out on special teams in 2010 and was active in every game. His contract is up and he will be looking for an opportunity to start. He's probably not going to get that chance in Chicago. Bullocks made 49 starts in his first four seasons with the Saints, but made only four in his two seasons with the Bears.

Corey Graham: The Bears, and special-teams coordinator Dave Toub in particular, would love to have Graham back, but he's due to become a free agent and wants a chance to play on defense. He was an ace on special teams in 2010, but was passed over for Jennings when a starting spot at corner opened up.

Chris Harris: Harris, who is in his second stint with the Bears, has one year left on his contract and would like to get an offer for an extension, but he'll turn 29 in August and the Bears might not want to invest in him long term. He's a hard-hitting, physical player, and while he's not known for his ball skills, he made a career-high five interceptions in 2010.

Tim Jennings: He was thought to be in line for backup duty when the Bears signed him after he was cut by the Colts last offseason, but Jennings started 13 games after replacing Bowman. Jennings is scrappy but undersized.

Danieal Manning: The Bears reportedly tried to sign Manning to an extension before the season was over, but the offer wasn't to his liking. It's still possible that Manning will stick with the Bears, but he's interested in checking out his options on the open market. Manning will take bad angles at times, but he has outstanding speed and athleticism. He's also a dynamic kickoff returner and has been durable.

D.J. Moore: Moore won the nickel back job after playing sparingly as a rookie and he did a nice job. He made some big plays and proved that he belongs despite lacking height (he's 5-foot-9). He has good hands and a nose for the ball.

Josh Moore: The fifth-round pick basically had a redshirt year in 2010. Moore was underdeveloped as he entered the draft and was active in only three games. He has good coverage skills, but needs to add strength before the Bears give him a shot to be a regular contributor at corner and on special teams.

Craig Steltz: He was active for only nine games and might find himself on the roster bubble in training camp. Steltz, a fourth-round pick in 2008, is an emergency backup at safety and a special-teams contributor.

Charles Tillman: After Julius Peppers and Brian Urlacher, Tillman might be the most valuable member of the defense. He has good size and is physical enough to match up against bigger receivers. Speed is not his strength and eight seasons have taken a toll on his body. Tillman is opportunistic. He's always looking to force a turnover. The 30-year-old matched a career high, making five interceptions in 2010, and he has forced at least three fumbles in four consecutive seasons.

Major Wright: If he can stay healthy, Wright should make more of an impact in Year Two, and there's a chance he'll be starting. He doesn't shy away from collisions, but is still learning how to be an effective deep safety. Wright needs to improve in pass coverage.

Bottom line: There's a nice mix of youth and experience in the defensive backfield, but there is no elite player in the bunch. The situation in the secondary will become more clear when there's a decision made regarding Manning's future.

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