Chicago Sun-Times

9 days to Camp: Return to form by Vasher key to cornerbacks

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Returning to our position-by-position breakdowns as we close in on being a week away from the first practice of the summer at Olivet Nazarene University, we focus on the cornerbacks.

Projected starters: LCB Charles Tillman, 6-1, 198, 7th season, Louisiana-Lafayette; Nathan Vasher, 5-10, 187, 6th season, Texas.

Others

Zack Bowman, 6-1, 193, 2nd season, Nebraska
Rudy Burgess, 5-10, 185, 1st season, Arizona State
*Corey Graham, 6-0, 198, 3rd season, New Hampshire
Marcus Hamilton, 5-11, 185, 2nd season, Virginia
Danieal Manning, 5-11, 202, 4th season, Abilene Christian
Trumaine McBride, 5-9, 181, 3rd season, Ole Miss
D.J. Moore, 5-9, 183, Rookie, Vanderbilt
Woodny Turenne, 6-0, 184, Rookie, Louisville

* Graham will be listed in the safety preview also. The Bears list him on their Web site as a safety but that move might not be permanent at this point.

Projected depth chart

LCB: Tillman, Bowman or Graham
RCB: Vasher, Bowman or Graham, Moore
NICKEL: Manning

2009 salary cap numbers

Zack Bowman $315,200
Rudy Burgess $315,200
Corey Graham $502,575
Marcus Hamilton $390,200
Danieal Manning $885,200
Trumaine McBride $479,012
D.J. Moore $426,688
Charles Tillman $4,716,666
Woodny Turenne $310,333
Nathan Vasher $4,866,666

Number of cornerbacks on the roster at the start of the 2008 season:
5 (including Manning, who the Bears list as a safety)

Projected number of cornerbacks on 2009 roster at start of the season: 6 (including Manning and Graham)

The skinny: What could have been the beginning of turnover at the position looks to be halted by the re-emergence of Vasher during the offseason program. While Ricky Manning Jr. fell into the coaching staff's dog house a year before and was never seen again, Vasher has worked himself out of it. At least that is the way it looks right now. The veteran and former Pro Bowl performer lined up with the first team throughout the offseason program, and we're reminded of what general manager Jerry Angelo told us after the draft: "I feel he will come back strong. I felt like last year he was ready. During this time last year, during training camp, I thought he did really well. He got off to a poor start of the season in terms of making plays, lack of, I don't know what that did to his psyche one way or the other. We just didn't see the same swagger, the same ballhawk that we know and came to love when you talk about Nate. Do I feel that he has that? Yes. I don't see any diminishing of his skills and I feel this guy is a great competitor and his back is to the wall. I expect him to come out and give us really good football and we're going to see the guy we paid. I have a lot of confidence in Nate. Saying all that, he's got to go out and do it. He's got to do that and he knows that.''

Vasher has played in only 12 games since receiving his contract extension two summers ago, but he slimmed down during a little during OTA's and looked to be in good shape. If he can bounce back it will go a long way toward stabilizing a secondary that didn't give up the big play a lot last season, but surrendered just about everything else. Tillman played with bad shoulders in 2008 and eventually required surgery to reconstruct one in the offseason. That's got to be a concern considering he went through shoulder surgery a few offseasons back. For his part, Tillman said he can't think about his shoulders when he's on the field. His physical nature is what sets him apart from others at his position and that's a big part of his game.

Graham leapfrogged McBride as the No. 3 guy and thus got plenty of action as a starter in Vasher's absence. With Graham potentially in the mix at free safety, we view that as a sign that the team believes Vasher is poised to perform well. We're not going to discount the possibility Graham winds up back at corner or perhaps in the mix at nickel with Danieal Manning. Bowman made the kind of noise during the offseason program that Graham made a year ago. He's a rangy performer who needs to prove he can stay on the field. He had a freak biceps injury in the only game he appeared in as a rookie, but battled multiple knee injuries while in school. Sometimes guys are just prone to injury and that might have been one reason the team pulled the trigger on Moore, who was called a value pick for the fourth round. The thing about Moore is you don't see starters his size, not often any way, and he's not 5-9. That makes it difficult to project him as a starter down the road. McBride faces a numbers crunch with Moore on board.

The upside: Tillman might not ever reach Pro Bowl level, but when he's on his game he's probably at the next level of corners in the league, and in that role he's as valuable as any other defender on the field. The upside would be more than 10 interceptions between the two starters, and it would have to include an all-around performance by Manning as the nickel back. That's a tough position that demands a lot and if he can provide a nice combination of tackles, picks and sacks, the secondary could look much different under new position coach Jon Hoke. Nothing will help this group more than a rejuvenated pass rush.

The downside: Vasher is injured or otherwise finds himself on the sideline and neither Graham nor Bowman can step forward and play at a level above being a fill-in. Graham was solid at times last season and certainly got a lot of action as offenses tried to work on him.

On the hot seat: Vasher. He's got the highest cap number in the secondary and while he's not in jeopardy of being a cap casualty, the Bears are anxious to see a return on their investment. He's been injured for the last two seasons--suffering a groin muscle tear in 2007 and wrist and hand injuries last year--and the good news is they're not expected to create performance issues for him moving forward. He's going to have to return close to an elite level with a base salary of $2.9 million this season and $2.95 million in 2010.

Final thought: The Bears were very fortunate to have a run there for a few seasons where they didn't have to worry about their cornerbacks. Tillman and Vasher formed a solid tandem and were young and cheap. Now, they're experienced and no longer cheap but if they're playing well they come at a fair price. Tillman wasn't interested in making the move to free safety that was talked about so much at the beginning of the offseason, and the Bears would have been making a big error moving their best cornerback to fill a spot that is not as important. Most defensive coaches we know will list a pass rusher as their first choice when building a defense and a cover man as their second choice if they were able to start from scratch and all things were equal.

Previous previews:

Quarterback

Defensive end

Running back

Defensive tackle

Fullback

Linebacker

Offensive line

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29 Comments

What do John Lynch, Cameron Worrell, Todd Johnson, Adam Archuleta, and Craig Steltz all have in common?

Vasher being back at the level he played two years ago would really be great for this defense. The depth of the Bears D backs is good going into the season. If only the D line can get a push to the QB and create pressure and sacks this D could be a top five D.

A lot of ifs but I am feeling better about this defensive corners group than any since 2005/2006. Manning at nickel has been good so with his kick off return ability lets keep Manning in the nickel role and not consider a move to free safety. He will be very good in these two projected positions in 2009.

I am really looking forward to seeing the rookie from Vandy and his ability to add depth to the D.

'and the Bears would have been making a big error moving their best cornerback to fill a spot that is not as important'.

Wow.

Have you been watching Tillman the last 3 years?
While he has always played off his man too much to cover a lack of real speed, the last three years have been a joke. He gives up everything underneath to the middle, and bites way to easily on reciever moves or quaterback fakes and should have been burned far more often last year by accurate quaterback throws.

If it wasn't for his uncanny ability to strip the football from the opposition he would easily be in the bottom third of cornerbacks in the league for covering ability.

I love the guy, he seems stand up and courageous and a great Dad, but as a cornerback....he's been WAY overrated by the BEARS and the Chicago media.

When Tillman and Vasher are healthy and on their game, the Bears have good corners. Period.....End of story.

Last year I don't think either of them spent much time healthy and on their game. I also think the play at corner was joined at the hip with the line play.

You have to get both to have good pass defense. Interceptions (or good secondary plays) often come when the quarterback has a pass rush in his grill. Sacks (good line plays) often come when the quarterback pulls the ball down because his primary is covered and has to look for a second or third option. The Bears defense has historically used a combined attack to get stops and turnovers.

Last year was a viscious cycle where the Dline did not make enough plays to help the secondary. A lot of ink has been spend on that problem. However the other half of the cycle was the secondary giving up a lot of timing passes to primary receivers. It's hard to get a good pass rush when the quarterback drops, plants, and throws.

I don't agree with the notion that cover 2 is the problem. I just think they have been playing it badly over the last year or so. Lovie's cover two requires good team play both up and back to work. If the secondary starts playing better, it will have a positive impact on the Dline. They could start to complement each other again. However if the Dline plays better, it really won't matter unless they also pick it up in the secondary. They need to have both.

Quentin: They're white safeties. What's your point?

Come on Vash and Peanut! We need you!

"Vasher has played in only 12 games since receiving his contract extension two summers ago, but he slimmed down during a little during OTA's and looked to be in good shape."

That's good to hear. Vasher had bulked up a bit the season before and we all noticed the lack of speed and agility. By slimming down he hopefully regains the quickness that allowed him to become such a valuable playmaker. We could really use "The Interceptor" back.

I'm also surprised, and pleased, that Bowman is making such waves. He has the talent and instinct, he just needs to stay healthy.

quentin,

i beleive they are all white? whats your point? lol no i agree that craig steltz looks a lot like adam archuleta. He seems too weak to play the safety position.

Tillman is one of my favorites. He plays 100% all the time. Even with bad shoulders, he still comes at you. Vasher, dunno what the deal is. Injuries aside, he kinda left the house mentally. Vasher needs to have a good camp and better pre season. If he doesnt, time for a change. I still think moving Corey Graham to FS is a good idea. It might take some time, but hes a good tackler with range and size. We dont have that back there. DJ Moore and McBride can duke it out behind Vasher. They need to leave Kevin Payne alone at the SS spot. Hes a good SS. His play suffered when they tried moving him around to play FS. This is a solid group, but unless the front 4 wake up and start making plays they will get scorched. Any secondary would.. You can only cover for so long..

i really feel peanut got snubbed from the pro-bowl in 2006. he was a difference maker and as shut down as anyone that made the pro-bowl that year. i really hope he can stay healthy and do what he does best in 2009. also, looking forward to dj moore...his style resembles cortland finnegan's, but maybe i'm getting ahead of myself...

brad, thanks for keeping such good track of everything! at least someone cares about our bears! when does joyner review DB film?

@ quentin: They are all too slow to play the safety spot any longer if ever, none of them need to play pro ball in the NFL, and they all dated a girl named Susie at some point in their life ;)! Now on to real football bizz. I definitely saw the bulk Vash put on the last two seasons and I believe he did it because he understands that his area is a target for sweeps and cut backs by the running back and he has to crack his body into that of opposing offensive lineman, tightends and fullbacks who have him outweighed by 100lbs, and that takes a toll on the DBs in our scheme. Alas, I pray that he can physically hold up at this lower weight as I doo believe the added pounds slowed his game and made it too difficult for him to be himself out there on the field. Be careful Nate Short-Body Vasher, but not too careful. This is The League! Play Big or go Home!

"The thing about Moore is you don't see starters his size, not often any way, and he's not 5-9. That makes it difficult to project him as a starter down the road."

Well he may not be 5-9 Brad, but does he play like he is 5-9? Or at least does he play like he is 5-7 3/4? I can live with 5-7 and 3/4 after that it's a crap shoot.

Vasher looked good in OTA's? Non contact right? Isn't his problem teams started running the ball at him and recievers started getting more physical with him? Vasher no like the contact. Brad as you pointed out the Bears rely on their corners more than most teams in run support.

Last year vasher suffered a thumb injury that kept him off the field most of the season? Is that joke? He had a sore thumb and couldn't play football? I watched him last year he was blowing tackles in run support left and right, he was also out of position more than not in pass defense. Now maybe Hoke will fix the out of position part but teams are still going to push him around.

By dahlillama on July 22, 2009 9:36 AM
"Vasher being back at the level he played two years ago would really be great for this defense."

You mean three years ago, it is now 2009, 2006 was the last time he played well, he has stunk for two seasons.

By Mike on July 22, 2009 10:17 AM
"I'm also surprised, and pleased, that Bowman is making such waves. He has the talent and instinct, he just needs to stay healthy."

Bowman looks good in non-contact drills, thats nice. Put him and Tillman on the field as the starters and we can call them Peanut Brittle.

Hey Brad it's already noon and I don't see any new Joyner piece being posted by you. Whats the matter doesn't Joyner have some new metric system to prove that Vasher has been awsome the last two years? Or maybe he has a math Theorem to show the Bears actually have won the Super Bowl the last three years in a row, at least according ot his math they did. I mean he has one that proves to him that T. Jackson in MIN is one of the best QB's in the NFL. If that guy is one of the best then the Bears must have won the Super Bowl the last three years, gosh and nobody told them either.


I thought the Bears extendend Marcus Hamilton. Why isn't he in the mix?

Gosh, people are mean when they don't have to stand behind their statements or face the person they're being mean to.

todays post and article are right on. I always considerd DBs angelos strength when drafting. I beleive when healthy Vasher is the bears number one corner over roasted Peanut because he plays in the recievers hip pocket and only perfect throws are'nt picked off. If god forbide anything happens to either, Bowman was a steal and will fill in well(or better) if healthy. Danial Manning I consider a bust but maybe Lovies offseason tutoring and a better pass rush will finally let me see what they see in him. Do'nt expect much from D J Moore this year unless we have lots of injuries or he becomes a special team standout.

One other point is I love that Angelo drafts player who match up with who we need too pass in our division. I.E. a bigger O-line and bigger defensive tackles to match up with minnesotta's bulk, and bigger corners like Tillman and Bowman to match up with with detroits height advantage at reciever. Go Bears, my moneys on you to make it to the superbowl and I can't afford to lose that bet.

ahhhh...hey brad vasher looked good in otas??? you mean non-contact? you mean running around with his shirt off with beads of sweat runing down his chizelled body? (oops tah last one was in my imagination)...well guess waht "brad" taht doesnt meen A THING!!! vasher is LOOSERS ANS A BUST ANS A SISSY!!! yes tahts right s sissy sense he cant play wehn hes injured! is taht a joke???? ans i now you loosers are thikng well gee crap-ton, youve never played profesional fotball or any exersise for taht matter ans you falsely tewl people you were once in the marines....who arre you to say an an thumb injury is no big deel? and is say taht i amm so very tuff sense one time i answered the phone when my mommy wasnt home!!

oh ans brad why dont you go find a kc joyner poster to drool over!! (hyu hyu i am so funy) sense you love him so much. if you going to write a reevew one somone woh does nt now waht hes talkging abot why dont you just starting quoting me????? :)

well tahts enuf time with you loosers. is back to the summer of crap-ton! yea tahts right loosers all these cool dudes ans pretty girls are at my house write now swimming in teh pool wit me ans saying oh oyu are so cool crap-ton ans...waht? oh ok mom. ill give you youre pedacure.....

but you guys now me old cerrpa-ton....just trying to e possative...

p.s. hey hey you yuo i can be youre girlfrend!!! ahhh......

Ok, I going to get ripped for this one (if anyone actually ready my posts) but I'm going to say it anyway.

IF, and I repeat IF,

1) Hester becomes a solid to dominant receiver this year, and

2) Manning continues to find his place in the secondary,

I think they should experiment with D.Mann should be the Bears next experiment at wide receiver.

Why?

If they successfully convert Hester then why not. Manning was essentially drafted because of, and with the same skill set as Hester. He's fast, elusive, and hard to bring down on kickoffs. So if he's becoming a bust on defense why not give it a try. Now I don't think they can publicly make this move until Hester makes it (and hopefully he does make it).

I don't know. I could be wrong (and probably am). Just a little food for thought Bears Nation.

Good group of athletes back there to compete with Vasher and McBride for roster spors...DJ. Moore was highly thought of coming out last season heard he's a playmaker, Turrene is a nice ball hawk that should be hidden on the practice squad he's still coming back from broken collarbone suffered at the ville last season. Bowman showed a lot of grit last season picking off pass to save a win before going on IR, can he stay healthy enough to make an impact...is his only issue, but none of this matters if the pash rush does not improve....Lester Hayes and Mel Blount couldn't cover anyone if QB's have all day to throw......this is a playoff or bust season for Lovie and Angelo, they made the moves now the players must produce........We still need a hitter on the field on defense someone to knock the snot out people and put fear in them while they are going over the middle, we'll miss the Captain Mike Brown, but time moves on and so must the BEARS.....

On a side note Brad, I heard Jim Brown talking about the greatest backs he's ever seen, he mentioned Gale Sayers as one of his favorites, maybe you can get Gale's take on great all-time backs, and what he might have done with a few more years on the field....Season is around the corner, I'm back and the BEARS are almost ready to go.....Go BEARS time to get it DONE!

I don't think it even needs to be Tillman and Bowman to be "Peanut Brittle..." That's frickin hilarious! Both Vasher and Bowman are injury risks.

It's sad that the healthiest and most physical player we have in the secondary is the one guy who can't seem to get the mental part figured out....D Manning could be a dominant safety with his physical skills, but can't seem to put it together for any stretch of time. You put Mike Brown's brain and football smarts in Danieal Manning's body, and you have a guy who could re-write the safety record books....Just bugs me that we can't get more out of him than we have.

Bring on training camp. Get these fancy lads into some pads and see what they do with some hitting! Enough of the shorts and shells....

Haha, agreed Joe! That "Peanut Brittle" comment was priceless. As was Creighton/anonymous's rant on Joyner lol.

So I guess it's settled then Creighton. When I become wealthy either through my current endeavors or by accidentally shooting an oil vein, I'm going to give you your own sports talk show. However, Brando has to be your co-host; kind of like what Andy Richter and Conan had going on. Now I know you two don't particularly care for each other but I swear to Zeus, Buddha, and the ego of Bill Holland that it will massacre every other program in the ratings.

By the way, I know the Brando/Creighton feud has been going on for a long time, but can either of you answer where/when it all started? I'm sure I'm not the only one wondering about that.

Also, "Is the season here yet?" you are a very, very brave individual. However, I'll let Creighton/anonymous deal with you lol.

It interesting to note that some of our better defensive backs (e,g, Tillamn and Peanut) were selected under D. Jauron. Now, I'm not much of a Dick Jauron fan, he reminds me of soggy Saltines, but he seemed good at selecting and/or developing DB's.

So I am curious how the current group develops under Hoke. I think Tillman has played extremely well and Vasher has been impacted by injuries. Clearly you have to view their performance in light of the abysmal pass rush.

Having said that... if Daniel Manning is NEVER in the secondary this year, I won't be disappointed. And I do mean never. This is his what ? fourth year and he's still clue-less. I'd rather see Al Afalava or even Dahna Deleston back there. Seriously, my biggest fear is this SS situation. A clueless Manning or a slow Stelz.

Bowman looks to have huge upside and I only hope that one of these other obscure players does too - as the good players from this group are becoming older and fewer in number.

Joe, I agree with you on Manning.

D Manning is a mystery. If I remember correctly, he's the one who blew the coverage on that long easy TD throw by the Colts in the SB a few years back, when he was a rookie. He's not a good tackler. But he has straight line speed and power and he's instinctive, I think. And that's why I think he is so good at KO returns; he doesn't think about it. He just gets it and goes. He's kind of like Forrest Gump in a sense (not that he's challenged). I'd feel safer seeing Graham or Bowman at nickel.

Tillman and Vasher are above average CBs when healthy. Injuries happen. The last two years were a blessing in that we now know that Graham, McBride and Bowman can play, and will do fine if they are called upon.

The name of the game at cornerback and safety is consistency. All of the guys in the mix have looked good to great at one time or another,but all have also had inexcusable lapses. I think a coach's job is to motivate players to go all out on every play and to attack mental errors so harshly that no one wants to repeat them.That is what creates consistency if the players are good enough to compete with anyone when they are at their best. I think all of the defensive backs are good enough. They just have to consistently produce.

Yes, it has been awhile since he was healthy `played good' Same as for most of the D...Url/Harris etc... all have been MIA for 3 years.
It's sad to see Mike Brown go - maybe the D is already gone? We have not reloaded fast enough to replace that dominant Super Bowl Force. We drafted too many Olinemen in that period... doh!

This is it for alot of these D players, Bada$$ guys all, at one time, but this is the year quite a few of them will either step it up or go awol. That Heisman Pose by Url seems a long time ago. Either way we need to start seeing some guys come off the bench and start before its too late.
Hopefully Pisa/Moore/Gilbert/Harrison/Freeman can be our future. Maybe we will see some of the future this preseason.
I feel alot more comfortable about our Offense for a change, now thats wrong.

I think Fencik and Plank were white too!!! Hey, Obama's black so what's the big deal??

MS,
You are correct that the secondary and line compliment each other, but the pass rush is much more important. The '85 Bears didn't have great defensive backs, but it didn't matter because opposing quarterbacks couldn't get the ball to open receivers due to the pass rush. When you start playing football, coaches teach that the best pass defense is a good pass rush. If the Bears get their pass rush together this season, I'm not at all concerned about the secondary, though it would be nice to have an actual free safety instead of a strong trying to play free, which is what it looks like the Bears will be going with.

Joe,
Buddy Ryan once said that you build a championship team with good athletes who are tough and who are smart players. Players like Daneal Manning and Devin Hester defy that mold, unfortunately. If a player doesn't have the smarts, his game will be lacking, regardless of how good his physical talents are. I'm talking about football smart here, not intellectual intelligence, street smarts, or media savvy.

@chitownbear

I completely agree! If Sayers woulda had the "Jim Browns" of the league, I think Sayers career woulda lasted a little while longer. Both players were great...in their own ways. It nice to see players giving credit where credit is due! (especially from Jim Brown) Wonder how this comment will pan out when the two cross paths! Im sure Sayers is flattered!

I have doubts about our CB's beyond Tillman and Vacher, I havent seen anything special from the guys we brought in. However, i do like the kid Burgess from ASU, he has good speed but is learning the position since he was a wideout at ASU.

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This page contains a single entry by Brad Biggs published on July 22, 2009 5:05 AM.

Scratch a QB off Bears' emergency list; Losman heads to UFL was the previous entry in this blog.

8 days to camp: Olsen expected to break out at tight end for Bears is the next entry in this blog.

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