Chicago Sun-Times

Cornering the market: Do injury concerns have Bears shopping?

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The Bears have kicked the tires of two veteran cornerbacks now and both have signed elsewhere after news this morning out of Cleveland that Rod Hood is expected to sign with the Browns.

Prior to the draft, the club brought in Ken Lucas after he was cut loose in Carolina. Eventually, he returned to his former home in Seattle.

From the looks of things the Bears at least investigated Hood, who looked like a fit as a veteran with plenty of starting experience and good size at 5-11, 198 pounds, because Corey Graham is being shifted to free safety. Hood could have instantly provided an insurance policy as a No. 3 cornerback and worked behind Danieal Manning as the nickel back at a position where there is no such thing as too much insurance.

It will be interesting to see if the Bears continue to take a look at the market for available corners because while their depth chart shows plenty of bodies at the position, there are some legitimate health concerns with half of the bunch. We'll elaborate shortly. Ex-Bear Ricky Manning Jr. remains on the open market. While picking up his game tickets at a Tampa hotel days prior to the Super Bowl, Manning said he would not rule out a return to the Bears, and despite a rocky ending with the Bears, he left on classy terms. That seems unlikely. Chris McAlister is on the street. He is still rehabbing a knee injury and although reports indicate he'll be cleared for a return to football activities by late June, is he someone a team could count on going into the season? Bringing in someone with injury issues to back players with injury issues might just clutter the training room. McAlister also had run-ins last season with Ravens coach John Harbaugh. Aaron Glenn, Patrick Surtain, Sam Madison, Ty Law and another ex-Bear, R.W. McQuarters, are some other corners with high mileage that are available.

Maybe none of them are tempting. Maybe there is one out there the Bears will take a good look at. As we wrote last week, just remember back to Chris Thompson vs. Steve Smith in the 2005 playoff loss to Carolina for a refresher on what a thinned out depth chart at cornerback can look like on a bad day. Some have blamed the last-second loss at Atlanta in 2008, at least partially, on Marcus Hamilton's poor play covering Michael Jenkins. Wherever you want to lay the blame--and in this case there were plenty of choices--the Bears were dealing with inexperienced cornerback play.

Here is how the depth chart stacks up right now:

LCB Charles Tillman. Has yet to be cleared for a return to the field after offseason shoulder surgery, the second shoulder surgery he has undergone in four years.

RCB Nathan Vasher. Groin and hand injuries have kept him off the field for 20 games over the last two seasons. General manager Jerry Angelo is confident Vasher is poised for a bounce-back season but his recent injury history at minimum provides cause for concern.

CB Zack Bowman. Fell in the 2008 draft to the fifth round because of his injury history. He suffered a torn ACL in his left knee in school and then had a ruptured patellar tendon in his right knee. Bowman made some big plays in the lone game he appeared in last season vs. Minnesota but suffered a ruptured biceps tendon and was lost for the season.

CB Trumaine McBride
. Like Tillman, he remains sidelined as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery. McBride, who started half the season in 2007 when injuries struck, was relegated to a special teams role last season.

CB D.J. Moore. The fourth-round pick from Vanderbilt doesn't come with injury concern but he's listed at 5-8 and that might be fudged by an inch. Scouts say he plays tall for his size but he might need to play on stilts if he finds himself in coverage against, say, Detroit's Calvin Johnson.

CB Marcus Hamilton. Will probably have to make the team as a special teams contributor.

CB Rudy Burgess. Doesn't have any NFL experience and was moved to corner after joining the practice squad as a wide receiver last season.

CB Woodny Turenne
. Undrafted college free agent made some plays in the OTA last Wednesday but has an uphill battle.

So the Bears have injury concerns to a varying degree with each of their top four cornerbacks. Tillman has not missed much time during the season but now that he's had a second shoulder reconstruction, he'll be watched. Vasher is really the key to the position. If he can regain prior form and remain healthy, something that wasn't an issue prior to his contract extension two years ago, the position should be a strength of the defense. If injuries crop up--and the Bears will not be able to call them a surprise--musical chairs could happen. Graham could always be switched back to cornerback but Lovie Smith's stated goal is to find a way to get his best athletes on the field in the secondary. The Bears don't want to start shifting him all over, one of the mistakes that was made with Danieal Manning. Stay tuned to see if the club takes a look at another cornerback now that Hood is off the market.

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This group, while among the deepest on the team as far as talent and experience, is also the thinnest because of the threat of injury. The only one who was completely healthy just got moved to safety in Graham. I would not be opposed to moving Manning to the outside in case of injury, but then we are plugging holes, and creating new ones.

I don't particularly like any of the street free agent options out there, but we do have a very deep depth chart. It all comes down to Vasher. If he can regain form and stay healthy, then we should be in good shape. I worry about facing bigger receivers, but we can match-up Tillman and Bowman on them in a rotation to keep Tillman from further damaging his shoulder. Moore, Vasher, and Manning would be a nice complement to those two between the opposite side and the nickel. If Graham successfully makes the conversion to safety, we can still use him in man coverage matchups depending on formation, and move the CB back to zone coverage. If he doesn't win the FS job, then I say make him a CB full time (he should be a starter ahead of Vasher and Moore), and count on the safety depth to carry us through.

D J Moore has a 39-1/2" vertical leap.

Go outside and try to leap over something--anything--that's even close to 39-1/2" and you'll gain some understanding of why Moore can cover much taller receivers.

Until you've seen D J on the football field it may be wise to withhold your judgement. He just might be the football player Mr. Angelo and others on the Bears' staff think he is.

I have fond memories of "R-Dub" McQuarters and would like to see him back with the Bears. As I recall, he had some safety experience with the Giants as well, which would make him a valuable backup at a couple of positions.

a 39.5 inch vertical leap gives him the capacity to go up and get the ball...

...but his pure ability to get airborne isn't the problem. Taking his vertical heart means that you're assuming that he can actually jump that high in a game situation. There might be situations where he doesn't have to leave his feet and CAN still reach a ball, but because the guy he's covering has the bigger body, Moore might get boxed out or out-muscled on the ball. I could easily see both Moore and a taller receiver getting their hands on a ball, but because Moore's arms would be above his head and a WR closer to the chest, the odds are on the WR to end up with the ball when all's said and done.

Brad, so as the nickelback, does Manning eventually get bumped up to starting CB should our corners go down or is he the unquestioned nickelback who will only stay at nickelback? I'm confused.

Don't get me started with Atlanta!!

I'm still mad at that Atlanta play, but not at Hamilton. I said at the time, and still feel that somebody's head should have rolled on the coaching staff that week.

Nobody who has the talent to make an NFL roster could have been as far out of position as Hamilton because of speed or agility. He was that far out of position because he either didn't know what to do or the Bear's were in the wrong defense.

I hope that general situation is something the Bears are correcting this off-season. I'm talking about making sure that the backups at least know what to do if they come in the game. Atlanta was not the only time we saw a backup come into the game last year without being coached up. Rex said after the Lions game that he was on the scout team and had zero reps with the offense that week. OK Orton was the starter, but Zero? Zero? That's not good.

Yeah it's always a challenge getting the first team enough reps to be ready, while still at the same time giving some work to the second team. It takes some balance, but balance is hard to achieve with no reps.

I told you not to get me started!

Movin Corey Graham to FS was a mistake. The Bears need to do 1 of 2 things. Either stick Daniel Manning at FS or put C Steltz there. These guys have ball skills and are good tacklers. I know D Manning screwed up in the Super Bowl, but i believe he was a rookie. Leave em back there and COACH HIM UP. Graham at cornerback just makes us so stronger.

The Bears have screwed with some of these guys careers because they have no defined position.

ahhhh....al tehse loosers are BUSTS! wehn i play madden i just TRADE ofr beter players. rite now i have namdi asomugah and asante samuels on MY team ans my defense is pretty good. bradley, why cant teh bears trade for hese player slike i do in madden? its so easy and we always win becise i a m always right ans i ony give facts.

but you guys now me.. wait you dont now me! we never met (shh shh its you old buddy...im hiding from teh evil doers like brando,,,)

ps. by teh way.. i HATE tah CHEERY HAPPY GO LUCY BRRRRRRRANDO!!!

I like where the Bears currently are with their corners. Graham could make a very special free safety, speed and toughness. Although the corners have some injury history that is pretty consistent throughout the NFL. Vasher and Tillman as starters, Vasher seems poised to have a good season and come back to the form that he had a few years ago. Moore also seems to have starter capability. That leaves Bowman and McBride as backups with some young talent also in line to assist.

The free safety position seems to still be the position that could go either way but again Graham may be the real deal at Free Safety. If the Bears bring a proven veteran in in the defensive backfield I hope it is one that could go safety if needed.

Q I disagree Steltz is not now and never will be a free safety and secondly I saw him juked several times and trucked once so I really don't know what they see in him. The corner spot is not a case for alarm some young ones will be released in July and down the line. Graham has a opportunity to be a special player at safety.

Clearly there is a great deal of concern amongst the coaching staff concerning the Bears secondary and from the way they played last year there should be. With no way to tell how much having Rod Marinelli coaching the defensive line will improve the pass rush the secondary has to be improved but the question we face now is how. We signed both Glenn Earl and Josh Bullocks to a one year contract and now it seems for what? Neither has the ability to shore up the free safety position which starts the wheel work selection of covering what management and coaching failed to draft for in the first place a free safety. Why the lack of confidence in those we have chosen through the draft like Al Alfalava, D.J. Moore and a few of the undrafted free agents like Woodny Turenne? We summarily imposed a guilt sentence on the coaching staff last year as the reason we gave up substantial points and yardage on defense and yeah they had something to do with it but perhaps all along the problem was in personnel as well. It appears the concern was greater than all concerned was led to believe. I say still swallow your Bear pride and make a move that will benefit the team and pull Mike Brown (or someone as competent) back in at free safety and allow Cory Graham to shore up the corner back position where we have had challenges due to injury. It was a bad move to expose a brutal weakness and never truly address it through free agency or the draft at free safety. Now we are either faced with relying on players we have with no NFL experience at critical points in the game and taking what we get or hoping that these young guys can step in make critical plays and stay healthy which we all know is highly unlikely in both situations. Defense was the problem all last year. It’s well paid and produced very little benefit last year. If Graham fills the need at safety which no one disputes he can play why not hold on to the corners we have and let them grow into their roles with out this panic. It’s obvious from the signing of Bullocks and Earl the Bears are not going to go wild in free agency. And that the release of Mike Brown was untimely event since we had not replacement already on the roster.

"The fourth-round pick from Vanderbilt doesn't come with injury concern but he's listed at 5-8 and that might be fudged by an inch"

Brad - Everything I have ever seen on Moore has him listed as 5'8" or 5'9". Most discussions on the subject have brought up the specific comment "A hair under 5'9"".

The Scouting Combine measured Moore in at 5'9", and they are notorious for shorting people on height. I buy the just under 5'9" commentary as I have seen it from many sources, but under 5'8"? That is the first time I have ever heard that.

Dawg, I agree with that trucking blast that Steltz got and I have waited for it to happen again. That's what history teach us. He may be a little better this year. He was a rookie thrown into the mix who may have been in over his head at that time. But I'm gonna pull a Kevin Armstead and try to support Steltz and keep a positive mind. But the one thing about history is that we have to put things into a better perspective when it comes to just about everything in regard to this team. Especially expectations. Believe it or not I think that Marinelli will make a difference. Maybe Don Johnson was better than fans and Coach Smith gave him credit for. One thing that was unknown about Johnson was that he was not 100%. I used to work in a hospital and he was there a few times getting tests done. And I really think that injuries occurred on defense because the offense couldn't stay on the field. 2007 a few plays before he got hurt you could see that Vasher was huffing and puffing. Maybe he was out of shape, maybe they went on his side a few too many times that game. The D was on the field a lot and that gones hand and hand with injuries. Cutler is such a great addition because he will help the whole team. No one will be able to key in on just one player because Cutler will be able to take advantage of that unlike anyone we've had in like forever. Being able to score and put together drives that keep a defense honest will erase that desire to bring up things that happened prior to April 2nd B.C.(Before Cutler) Honestly I feel like that date will matter even more once we kick it into gear. I see a more complete team this year.

Joe in Atlanta:

Pretty much agree with what you said, except with Mike Brown. The Bears moved him last year to strong safety because he has lost a step or two at free safety. As far as I am concerned, I would still try to find a place somewhere on the roster for Mike Brown even if he is a backup for younger players with speed, he would be a great coach to the youngsters and could fill in a pinch at either free or strong safety.

Something tells me that Brown may come in cheap and do another incentive laden contract and rejoin the Bears, I personally would love it although some on this blog would not.

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PAK MAN!!! best talent available and he knows hes gotta be on best behavior or else!

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This page contains a single entry by Brad Biggs published on May 26, 2009 10:53 AM.

Hood chooses a different neighborhood; CB to sign with Browns was the previous entry in this blog.

Bears hoping to have draft picks under contract by mid-June is the next entry in this blog.

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