Need No. 2--Free safety
Players on roster
FS Josh Bullocks (signed through 2009)
S Craig Steltz (2011)
S Glenn Earl (2009)
S/CB Danieal Manning (2009)
S/CB Zack Bowman (2011)
The Bears thought they were selecting an athletic safety with the skills to man the position for some time when they used their first pick in 2006 on Manning. He's started 28 games at the position and that has been enough for them to determine he's not a fit for them there. The most athletic member of the secondary gets caught out of position too often and part of the problem has its roots in the coaching staff's desire to move him all over the defensive backfield. The Bears are content now leaving him at nickel cornerback where he started last year and excelled after coach Lovie Smith took over the position. Smith is adding that position to his growing list of job titles and that is probably a good thing. It's too bad because Manning has proven to be durable and that is one trait the team has not been able to find at safety. Bullocks figures to be the man for the job right now. A former second-round pick, he had a nice rookie season in New Orleans but from there the progress stalled. The hope is that new surroundings will make a difference for him, and he looked good in minicamp, but the easiest way to judge a team's faith in a player is by his contract. Bullocks has a modest one-year deal.
Steltz is out of position at free safety even if the Bears say he can play the position. He's got the smarts to be in the right spot but lacks the range to cover deep like the team needs. Remember, this was one of the worst pass defenses in the league last season. Putting a slow-footed guy at free safety isn't going to help matters even if the biggest issue lied with the inability to generate a pass rush. Earl is another veteran option who came for the minimum. He could be considered behind Manning at nickel. Bowman was shifted to free safety out of necessity before Bullocks and Earl came on the scene. It's not known if that change is permanent and when you talk about durability issues at the position, Bowman is certainly a guy that will be difficult to count on given his history at Nebraska and the fact that he got knocked out after one game last year. This is a pressing need. The team feels like it has a decent strong safety in Kevin Payne. He's a thumper in the box and was out of position at free safety when tried there last season. Payne might not be flashy but he's gotten better at wrapping up instead of going for the knockout and will work fine. He's had injuries himself, recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, and a durable partner is a must. Bullocks will likely be in competition with a rookie for the starting job and Smith has shown no hesitation throwing rookies into the fire at the position. If the club passes on a wide receiver with its first pick, a logical choice would be for a safety here.
Who the Bears have been looking at
Defensive backs coach Jon Hoke has conducted private workouts with Troy's Sherrod Martin, who could be considered as a free safety but played cornerback in school. He also went to Ohio to work out Mike Mitchell, who might be versatile enough to play both positions. Martin is viewed as a second-round possibility but more likely a third rounder. Mitchell is a late-round option. The Bears also brought in Oregon State's Al Afalava and Penn State's Anthony Scirrotto on visits. They're strictly strong safeties who could be priority free agents and players that get a good look on special teams. The Bears are putting a premium on size at this position, part of the player profile general manager Jerry Angelo talked about this week. They believe a more sturdy safety will perhaps minimize the chance for injury at a position where durability is becoming increasingly harder to find. That means Missouri's William Moore and Oregon's Patrick Chung could be on the radar here and warrant consideration in the second round with the Bears' pick at No. 49. New Mexico's Glover Quin and Arizona State's Troy Nolan are late-round options.
Coming Saturday: Wide receiver.