BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--Danieal Manning has been to the coach's office plenty of times, so when Lovie Smith called him a week-and-a-half ago and told him to come on in to Halas Hall, he didn't think anything of it.
He's still beaming after the news he received that day. The second-round draft pick has been moved back to free safety, the position he broke into the league at as a rookie starter in the 2006 Super Bowl season. He'll be there with the first team when the Bears take the practice field at 3 p.m. at Olivet Nazarene University. Manning has started 28 games at free safety over the last three seasons and is the most athletic member of the secondary.
The plan is for him to wear two hats on defense. He'll play free safety in the base package and move to the nickel in the sub package when Craig Steltz will come on the field and be the free safety.
"I was ecstatic,'' Manning said. "I was really excited about it. I said, `I'm ready to do it.' I have taken a liking to nickel so much. I never even thought about going back to safety but when he told me, it was just great. I was trying to take nickel to another level. Now, I get to do both.''
The key for Manning is being assignment. He has to be instinctive, though, and that means being able to play without thinking about it too much. He's suffered the occasional lapse in the past and when that happens at safety, there is no other line of defense. Still, when Manning is on the field his speed and range allow him to clean up the mistakes of others.
"It's going to be on me to focus more on what position I'm in, in practice or the game,'' he said. "I have to concentrate more because I can get confused and end up trying to get to the deep [position] from where I am at. Right now, that will be the challenge going in. I've just got to be able to beat that demon and if I can get that down, then it's pretty much just going to play football and that's what I am good at."
His third duty will be returning kickoffs. Manning led the league last season, averaging 29.7 yards per return.
"That actually was a motivational builder for me,'' he said. "It helped me get a lot of confidence.''