CHICAGO – The biggest question facing both sides of the NFL’s oldest and best rivalry slated to kick off the league’s 100th season at Soldier Field on the first Thursday night in September is who is the better safety: Adrian Amos or Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix.
There is no disputing the Bears are better at the position with reigning first team All Pro Eddie Jackson lining up on one side and solid depth in Deon Bush, DeAndre Houston-Carson and Sherrick McManis who will line up everywhere in the secondary. But all eyes will be on Clinton-Dix and Amos throughout training camp leading up to the opener as Packers and Bears fans enjoy just on more topic to joust over with two teams having just swapped free agents.
The Bears weren’t unhappy with Amos, who after struggling in his first two and a half or so seasons settled down as a dependable if unspectacular sidekick for Jackson. But with Amos entering free agency this past offseason it appeared reasonable they could find an upgrade or at least solid swap while saving a few bucks under the salary cap.
That confidence was buoyed by the performances of the two three-year vets last season, Bush who stepped in to start the final two games of the regular season and the wild card contest with the Eagles and made solid contributions, and Houston-Carson’s consistent play in nickel and dime situations.
In addition to the versatile McManis, John Franklin who spent most of last year on the practice squad as an undrafted rookie free agent will make another run at the roster. It wouldn't be shocking to see year’s sixth round pick Stephen Denmark, a jumbo cornerback, end up at safety either.
Three Burning Questions:
1. Is Clinton Dix ready to return to his Pro Bowl form of three seasons ago?
With 17 interceptions and four forced fumbles, the former Packer and Jackson teammate at Alabama has been one of the league’s best ball-hawking safeties since arriving in 2014. But his play started to fall off about midway through the 2017 season, most notably his tackling and assignment dependability, and with free agency pending after the season Green Bay elected to trade him to Washington before the 2018 deadline to at least recoup a fourth round pick rather than losing the one-time first rounder for nothing.
While they were only at ‘Bama together for one season, Jackson and Clinton-Dix remained friends after and the Bears All Pro was the team’s top recruiter in convincing Clinton-Dix to take less money on a one-year prove-it deal in Chicago than he was being offered by Washington and a couple other clubs.
The club’s newest and most likely only new starter on defense will be playing for serious money from another new deal at the end of this coming season and is also highly motivated to prove the Packers made a mistake.
If he returns to even near his former Pro Bowl form the Bears could have the steal of this year’s free agent class, but if he’s lost his appetite for contact and can’t reclaim past techniques the Bears could miss the unspectacular but solid play of Amos.
2. Will safety be where we see the biggest impact of the Fangio for Pagano D-Coordinator swap?
New defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano played safety in high school and college and was a secondary coach prior to becoming a coordinator and head coach, but Fangio took Ed Donatell with him to Denver as his new defensive coordinator and the Bears former secondary coach was arguably the Bears top assistant on defense.
How much the man every member of the secondary fondly referred to as “Coach Ed” will be missed remains to be seen.
3. Do the Bears have to worry if Jackson can stay on the field?
He was arguably the most impactful DB in the game last year and has been relatively healthy since arriving in Chicago. But were it not for a significant injury history in Tuscaloosa he would never have been there in the fourth round for the Bears and his three games lost last year came at the worst possible time.
The Bears will be in great shape if . . .
If Clinton-Dix comes all the way back and Jackson is healthy the Bears will have easily the best pair of safeties in football.
The Bears are in trouble if . . .
If Clinton Dix has lost it and Jackson goes down, Bush and Houston-Carson are game but a significant step down.