Chicago Sun-Times

Bears shuffle secondary before heading to training camp

| 22 Comments | No TrackBacks


Here's a new twist on an old problem.

The Bears are spinning the revolving door at safety before the action gets going this season.

Never ones to give away their depth chart before training camp, the Bears are changing ways. The story really doesn't change though, as the club announced on its Web site this morning that Danieal Manning is on the move again. Manning will open training camp in Friday's 3 p.m. practice at free safety, a position he spent exactly zero time at during the offseason program. Kevin Payne will be the starter at strong safety with Craig Steltz challenging him. Manning will slide to the nickel cornerback role he played last season in passing situations. In the nickel package, Steltz will be at free safety.

"Danieal is getting more of the concept of this defense and his overall football knowledge has improved a lot," coach Lovie Smith announced. "Sometimes it takes players a while before they really get it and I think Danieal has gotten it where it all makes sense to him, and that's why we're putting him in this role right now."

Manning was last seen at free safety in the season finale a year ago. With Mike Brown injured, Manning got the start at Houston where the Bears squandered a 10-point lead and lost to the Texans, surrendering more than 450 yards in the process. One big chunk came on Andre Johnson's uncontested touchdown when Manning blew coverage. It was a coverage mistake Manning made as a rookie in Super Bowl XLI that led to a secondary shakeup in 2007. That's been the one consistent thing under Smith, who has changed quarterbacks, safeties and position coaches on defense rapidly. The Bears have changed starting free safeties 16 times since Smith was hired in 2004, and swapped out starting strong safeties 14 times.

It's been the constant moving of Manning, the second round pick from 2006, that has stunted his growth. He's gone from safety to cornerback to safety to nickel cornerback and now back to safety.

"I've heard people talk about the different positions Danieal has played," Smith said on the Web site. "But that only helps you. He knows exactly what it feels like to play [corner, safety and nickel]. He's played every position in the secondary. That's helped his football knowledge and is going to make him a better free safety."

There is no denying that Manning is the most athletic player in the secondary and the one with the best skill set to be a center fielder. If it works out, it will be a smart move by the coaching staff. But you never know what is going to stick under Smith and what will not. Manning was the nickel back in the preseason last summer before Brandon McGowan was pushed out of his role as strong safety to the nickel to make room for Payne. The change--Manning being shifted to the sideline--happened at the end of preseason.

It just makes you wonder if the coaching staff thought Manning to free safety was a good idea, why wasn't he there for the minicamp in March? Or the offseason program?

Also, Smith announced on the Web site that Zack Bowman will open at left cornerback in place of Charles Tillman, while the starter recovers from back surgery. Bowman gets the nod over Corey Graham, who was moved to free safety at the start of the offseason program and is now going back to cornerback. The Bears will be a short another defensive back besides Tillman as Glenn Earl has informed the team he will retire.

No TrackBacks

TrackBack URL:


Aw man, there goes all the good feelings from the offseason moves. I hope Manning does finally get it, but I fear seeing another long TD from him blowing coverage. Plus, with him being on the field more, his kickoff returns may go down.

My other concern is what this does to Graham. His move to FS was thought to allow the best DBs to be on the field at the same time. Now it looks like Graham will be buried on the depth chart when Tillman returns.

It's not time to panic yet, but our D line better be in rare form to help out our secondary.

I think this is the best move we could make. Manning is the most physically gifted safety we have on the roster, and if he could get the mental part down, he could be a dynamic playmaker for us. His style of returning kicks is not going to be as much of a detriment as Hester's as far as focus. Manning is more of a "pick a lane and get moving" kind of returner, and his physical style with the ball in his hands is more reminiscent of a running back than a wide receiver/DB.

We'll see how this works out, but if Bowman struggles at all, or Vasher shows any signs of being the big-money flop he has been the last two years, then Graham is back in the starting lineup at CB, and our plan at free safety is shot anyway. If anyone was convinced that Steltz was capable of being a free safety full time, they were kidding themselves. Bullocks looked about the same as Manning last year in New Orleans, and Manning is faster, more physical, and younger...

Mabe Hoke is the missing ingredient in Manning's development. If he can get the kid to play within the scope of the defense, and not take chances when he cannot afford to, then we have ourselves at best a decent free safety. If the light comes on, and he gets to play without thinking about it, we have a player who could be among the best in the NFC. Should have done it in March, not August, but when have the Bears ever done something with forethought in the last 10 years?

This is a joke.. Constantly moving guys around. Manning.. the FS, CB, FS, NB, FS, ??? Yes he made a mistake in the SB, but the entire D sucked in that game. 200 yards rushing?? Umm ok. Manning's head has got to be spinning. Its the same with Idonje.. in or out..bulk up, no lose weight. He was supposed to be in the rotation at DE, but spent the majority of OTA's at DT??? This staff does not have a clue and Lovie is stubborn to the point that he rarely will he state the obvious. And he fires two assistants while keeping Babich on the team?? WTH is that? I love the Bears, but I hope they go 4-12 to force the clowns out of the building. That coaching staff blew several games last year. You cant do that in the NFL. Mike Shanahan anyone? John Gruden? Good grief, look at the talented coaches not getting paid while the clueless wonder again drives the boat into the rocks.

I am SICK of hearing how physically gifted Manning is. The kid can't play free safety. He doesn't get it. How many times do we have to see him blow coverage? I love him at nickel back and he is probably the best blitzing DB on the team, but he is NOT the answer at free safety.

The Steltz move to strong safety makes sense and even being the free safety for the nickel coverage is OK I guess. Manning as the starter at free safety scares me a whole lot. He has made some huge coverage mistakes at key times and his instincts just don't seem intact for the position.

As far as physical ability there is no question Manning probably is the most gifted. I have watched just about every game since I was 8 and have seen the deer in the headlights look from Manning too often with Manning out of position a whole lot more than the two times everyone brings up against Houston last year and Indy in the Super Bowl, although those instances were colossal blown coverage that cost the Bears big.

Maybe just maybe a whole season at Free Safety and nickel on passing downs might just work if Manning can get enough reps and get comfortable in the position.

Lovie, let Manning then play the position and quit bouncing him around like a rubber ball. Let him get to know the position so his instincts can take over to make plays.

Manning can either be boom or bust but he deserves the shot to be the man at Free Safety.

Joe, you are absolutely right about Graham getting lost in the depth chart at corner once Tillman comes back. I really like Graham as the top free safety candidate but if the corner position is in need he is also that guy to replace the starters. Lovie, If Tillman comes back strong then consider Graham as the Free safety in nickel instead of Steltz.

Lovie, Lovie get some stability in the safety positions this year please it has been a merry go round even as bad as the QB position for the Bears. The players need some stability with the knowledge that they will be starting and who they will be playing along side during the games. There is a lack of cohesiveness because of the constant change of players in the safety ranks.

Lets do it, go Bears!!!

I remember having young Mike Brown and young Tony Parrish and no reason to worry about this position nearly as much as the Lovie Smith regime has made me.

It's true about free safety, that you generally can afford to fill that position last on your defense. But it's only true if you have at least one great CB. Tillman is a good one, but he's not quick enough and he's not good enough in coverage to be called great. Before the ball reaches the receiver's (or, in some cases, a defender's), the Bears have very average CBs. After the ball's touched, they look pretty good.

I think this off-season is proof that it's time for the Bears to get themselves a third, hands-down start-worthy CB. I realize that most teams fill the nickel-back position with a safety or whoever from their roster, but think about the Eagles from about 6 years ago, when they had Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown as their 3rd and 4th CBs. That's the standard I think the Bears should have for their 3rd CB, a guy who would start on a lot of other teams. Vasher's knees and Tillman's back shoulders and knees would cause fewer nail-bites if next year we found a good CB to addd to the pack.

so manning going to play safety,nickle, and kick returner???????????? how about just leaving him at safety and return kicks and if he bust at safety again give him a pay cut and make him solely special teams. third years a players prime so I'll reserve full judgment and hope he makes the pro-bowl as a return man.

Whoa didn't see that coming! But is it really that big a deal?

Brad how many reps does Manning figure to get at Free Safety? It doesn't seem like it would be that many, since he got quite a few reps last year at nickel.

Doesn't the defense usually react to the offensive team's personnel when they go to nickel? For example doesn't the D-coord look to see if the slot receiver comes on the field to know when to send in the extra defensive back?

I guess the point is that Manning is going to spend a lot more time at nickel than at FS. The situations where the offense is going to be more likely to run complex passing plays is when Steltz would be at FS.

My Worst Nightmare - Is Daniel Manning on the field.

Having said that - they shouldn't bounce him around. More often than not, the phrase "gifted athlete" usually correlates with "slow learner". Hell, I hate myself for writing that but its often true, right? Let this guy stay put. How can they even evaluate his play against other players after moving him around so much?

So what happens now if Tillman rebounds quickly and Bowman, McBride, and Turrenne all look good. Does Graham get bounced back to Safety and Manning to Nickel? Is there a DB wheel-o-coverage in Lovie's office? It just looks like there's no planning. Shuffling everyone around doesn't seem like a good idea.

On the CB front - let Graham and Bowman back up Vasher and Tillman; this seems to make sense for building for the future. Let Afalava backup Payne. and let Stelz back-up Manning.

Please pass the cool-aide

If Manning is going to play FS than make him a FS and leave him there.

Manning was drafted to play this role but his mistakes have taken him out of the line-up before, this must be telling us more about Graham's ability to learn the free safety position and feelings about what Bullocks can do more then how well Manning played at the nickel last season. I like him there because his speed off the edge makes him devestating on the blitz, and he has the speed to cover the slot guy on short third down plays to help us get off the field. We need a great coaching year from Hoke, who has a lot of young talent to work with, still I am concerned as to who the real leader will be in the secondary this year, someone has to be smart enough to get everyone in the right positions and to also be able to disguise what we are running back there to give the pass rush some time to get to the QB......I am saying it now, the BEARS will go as far as the defense takes it this season.......Go BEARS.

Look, none of us will ever forget Manning blowing coverage on Wayne in the Super Bowl, but lets face it, he was a rookie (wasn't he?) and was being asked to make an immediate impact on the defense out of necessity. In an ideal world he would have sat a year or two while he learned the system.

Which is where he's at now. He's played all positions and knows the defense well. I think this year we'll finally see the contributions on defense that we expected out of him when he was drafted. I love this move by Lovie.

If this move pans out we have a deep, talented secondary and one of the best linebacking corps in the whole league. Now its up to Marinelli to work a little magic with the line. If he can watch out baby!

This is classic. Angelo has taken a lot of heat over the years for his mistakes, but it always seemed to me he did a decent job getting talent, but our coaches find a way to waste it. Spend all spring getting Steltz and Graham ready for FS then switch right before camp to Manning. Brilliant. What's the over/under for when Manning gets yanked. Given how it usually takes Lovie an extra six games to start seeing what everyone else sees and then another two games to actually do something about it, I'm going to say week eleven.

Also, I've really had it with this excuse about learning the system. How stupid do these players have to be? I understand that football can be complicated, but I guarantee that if I had nothing to do but workout and study the playbook, I would have a good grasp of it within a couple weeks and have it mastered by the end of the month. Geez, three years later and he's just getting the concept of the defense. Hire a freaking tutor or something.



Here are a couple of things nobody is mentioning. First off Manning has proven time and time again that he cannot play the free safety spot at a high level, so why in the world are we not hearing about Josh Bullocks, who has the MOST experience in that spot, having and opportunity to start. And why in the world if you are going to temporaraly move Corey Graham back to corner would he not immediatly be the starter next to Vasher. Graham plays Corner better than anyone else on our roster besides Tillman and your going to start Bowman over him? What? If I was Corey Graham I would tell Lovie that "I have been your best corner alonside Tillman as a starter, and I was willing to make the move to free safety this offseason for the best interest of the team, and now your going to move me back to corner AND put me behind Bowman.....Zach Bowman, your kidding right? Lovie Smith truly has lost his marbles, he is simply just throwing bodies around. The Bullocks thing really makes little sense either since he obviously is not going to do anything at the strong safety position with Steltz backing up Payne at that spot. What is Lovie saying, is he going to have Bullocks be the #3 strong safety, is that what he was signed for. This all shows that regardless of all the talent a team may have, a coaching staff either brings out the best in them or forces them into mediocrity, which one do you think Lovie's attaining?

"First off Manning has proven time and time again that he cannot play the free safety spot at a high level"

Manning's in only his fourth year in the NFL and has been moved from position to position time and time again. Perhaps the esteemed Bill Holland has never heard of player development? Let's wait and see before we conclude he can't play at a "high level."

Question: "so why in the world are we not hearing about Josh Bullocks?"

Answer: (Note: Make sure you have the volume turned on.)

"Josh Bullocks has the MOST experience in that spot"

Experience doesn't necessarily translate into being good. Rex Grossman has experience at QB. Metcalf at guard. Again, watch the youtube clip.

"Graham plays Corner better than anyone else on our roster besides Tillman and your going to start Bowman over him? What?"

I'm glad you know that as a fact but from what I've read Bowman has been a total playmaker at OTAs and nobody's doubted his talent, just his ability to stay healthy. The way I see it Bowman earned his way up with what he's shown the coaches. But I'm not close personal friends with any members of the coaching staff. So what do I know?

Hey Holland did someone ever tell you look like Randy Quaid? I swear you could be his body double.

I believe Einstein said that the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. I know Manning is a terrific athlete, but I really question his instincts at that position. We have heard all summer about how free safety is not that important of a position in the Bears defense. However, it can kill you if the player has no idea where to play. What really bothers me is that not only are you potentially hurting your defense, but you may also be hurting special teams. Manning was such a weapon at kick returner down the stretch. I hope Manning proves me wrong and is a good safety - or Lovie keeps an open mind and moves someone else there if Manning struggles during preseason.

Hey Mat T... dont ever question my fan status. If you could read,, I prefaced the comment with my love for this team. Do I want them to lose no. Dont be an idiot. Perhaps you could read between the lines a bit here. This coaching staff is a joke. I would easily take a bad year to get these clowns outa here. That was the point. Lovie Smith got the job as the what.. 3rd..4th option??? His inability/refusal to see that Grossman was struggling cost a chance to win a SB.. SUPER BOWL Mat.. Griese shoulda been in the last few weeks and the playoffs. Lovie fired a great DC in Rivera to hire a buddy. Why,,Rivera wanted to tweak his beloved Cover-BS defense. Then he and the all knowing clown JA.. trade Thomas Jones and Chris Harris for basically nothing. Then they dont draft OL at all in '07.. the season goes down in flames. This staff has proven one thing.. that they really have no friggin idea whats going on. Dont get me going on Lovie's brilliant in game tactics. JA has redeemed himself landing Cutler.. but they still dump $$$ into the ever injured Tommy Harris. If this team again fails to win and make the playoffs then what Mat.. uhhh at least we were better then Tampa and Denver??? WTH is that.. what logic is that?? Lovie's vaunted D run by his idiot pal Babich blew games left and right.. 14 points at home vs. Tampa.. Atlanta..(ughh)..10 point lead at Houston.. lost. Babich and Lovie learned the same system. This style of D with small/quick DT's does not work anymore. Lovie refuses to evolve and make changes to his system. Now that Lovie is calling the plays it will be better? Refusal to adapt = 6-10. So Matthew.. Learn to read into things a bit.

And Mat.. I totally ingored the X-Box comment that you threw in there. Im 38.. been to alot of Bears games. Was there for Paytons and Fenciks last game in the 1987 playoffs against the Skins. Good grief.. named my son after Payton. So again..this is a blog. Not a personal attack zone. Nobody else tipped over on my post except for you. My anger with Lovies idiot coaching and his inability to adapt is shared by many. As a bleed orange/blue Bears fan, its hard for me to sit by and watch Lovie flounder shifting guys here/there/everywhere.. while quality football minds like Gruden and Shanahan sit it out. Why are we moving Manning back to FS 2 days before camp? Why? What happened to Josh Bullocks? Wasnt he signed to play FS so that Manning could stay at the NB spot? Its just more proof that Lovie is just lost on what to do. All of this stuff with Manning shoulda been handled in the OTA's. Not now! So take a breath before you launch into your tirades.

Kid can't play free safety. Anyone ever hear of continuity at a position? I'm sure there will be at least 2 more secondary position changes before training camp is over.

Before we kill the kid for a couple of coverage mistakes, let us not forget the 90+ yard TD Berrian got off of Tillman when he blew coverage. Every defensive back gets burned at some point. Manning's errors have been very obvious, but for most of them, he did not have someone calling the plays in the secondary like Mike Brown, who is capable of putting everyone where they need to be.

He needs to learn to limit his mistakes, but the benefit of having your kick returner be your safety is he gets a chance right away to make up for the mistake. The best thing for a defensive back to have is a short memory, and a kick return is an easy way to keep him from dwelling on an error. If he's thinking about a blown coverage, he is going to get killed on returns. Is he the answer at free safety? Maybe, maybe not. But Josh Bullocks, Craig Steltz, and Corey Graham are not an answer either. Graham has potential, but he would suffer the same growing pains we have watched Manning go through for at least this season while he learned how to play the position.

With our current roster, the answer to the issues at free safety are sacks, QB pressures, and well-timed blitzes. We protect a weakness in our defense by using other strengths. If our defensive line cannot get to the QB consistently, we will need to blitz more, and hope it works out. If they can get to the QB, then we can keep 6 or 7 guys in coverage all the time, and not expose ourselves to the big plays as often.

Strass you are a whole 38 yrs old congrats, iwas watching Bear games when Sayers and Butkus were playing before the 16 game schedule I believe you don't understand why those coaches you named are out of work they did or didn't do something you are not privilige to this league recycles coaches over and over if it take a while for you to be recycled you screwed up. Lovie's biggest fault is loyalty to friends and adopted sons[i.e. players his fond of] he also is structured to a fault that's why he is now overseeing the defense. Rivera's own head-coaching aspirations got him in trouble and as it turned out Lovie was right. When he says Manning is a potential playmaker he is right. Manning has a knack for blitzing and has been spoon-fed by Lovie for over 6 months. And all this hoopla about Steltz is over-rated he is smart be he has a Glenn Earl low-light clip on youtube also. Lovie is trying to get the most playmakers he can on the field. Have a little dose of reality with your orange and navy kool-aid.

I don't care who plays what in camp really... Just get the best players on the field when we suit up vs the packers on Sept. 13'th !!

Manning has been jerked around alot, but Lovie has worked with him one-on-one the last few seasons and to his credit, Manning has looked better because of it. If Manning is the best option on the roster to play FS let him have all the first team reps during camp. It would be silly to have him split reps with Graham and then the last pre-season game decide the winner. If the coaches like Manning the most they need him to get all the reps he can get so he can get comfortable with the new assignment. The coaches see these guy's everyday, they know what these players can and can't do. Perhaps Graham, Steltz and the others all struggles with the concepts or speed and Manning is the most qualified to handle the role ??

Guess we'll see soon enough !!

As far as Manning being the starting FS, NB and KR you won't see that happening.... If Many is the FS then he won't play NB, it will likely be Graham. So you basicaly will see Graham and Manning switching roles on the Defense.

Go Bears !!

Leave a comment

Twitter updates


About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Brad Biggs published on July 29, 2009 10:24 AM.

Can't wait for training camp Friday? Catch Lovie on Thursday was the previous entry in this blog.

Bobby Wade claims Urlacher made unflattering remarks about Cutler is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.