Chicago Sun-Times

Danieal Manning `ecstatic' about return to free safety

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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.''

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I find it interesting that he gained confidence being a return man that could translate into marked improvement on defense. We all know football is a game of emotion, and harnessing that emotion is what makes the great players a level above everyone else.

Momentum is a big part of that emotion. Gaining confidence in anything you do gives you a taste of success, and you seek to replicate that in other aspects of your life. If Manning can take the confidence he gained as a nickel back and return man, and translate it into a higher comfort level at free safety, then we could have a pretty good football player at the position for us. I wish they would have made the move sooner, but I really think they wanted to get an extended look at Steltz through the offseason.

The Bears system makes the safeties relatively interchangeable, but it requires two players who can play in the box AND cover large amounts of ground in the passing game. Neither Payne or Steltz are particularly adept at coverage, although Payne seems to be pretty solid in that regard. Manning is physically what the prototype is for the Cover 2 safety: Fast, physical, and aggressive. The only thing he does not have is the ideal height. If Hoke can help him make this transition, we will finally have developed one of our young, talented players into what we wanted them to be. That would be a huge step forward for the coaching staff, and for this team, to see what happens when we actually coach a player up to his potential. If Marinelli does the same for the D-line, then we have two solid teachers at the two most questionable positions on the defense: DL and DB. That would bode well for the future of the team, and for the chances of our defense getting back to the dominant form of a few years ago.

I am optimistic that he will be better than he has been at the position, based on his maturing as a player, and the reputation of Hoke as a teacher. I am not foolish, and will wait until I see how he does in preseason games, but I am optimistic that he can get it done. Will he be a Pro Bowler? Likely not, but he has the physical tools to be that impact player we need to replace Mike Brown in the defensive backfield. If only he had the football mind of Brown....

during his first 2 years as a bear (at fs) manning was easily my least favorite player on the team. he made 2 of the more embarrassing plays i can remember; the blown coverage on the wayne td in the superbowl and the infamous slap tackle that he attempted to use against adrian peterson with a head full of steam during one of his 200+ yard romps against the bears.

last year, we moved him to nickleback and i ate alot of my words because he was very effective blitzing off the edge in a limited role for a bears defense with an otherwise lackluster pass rush.

this year, we have not addressed the pass rush issues and nickle packages would have been a strong point for our defense. i dont understand the need to complicate things when manning has already established himself as a below average safety. he simply is not a guy with so much ability that we need him on the field at all times with increased responsibilities. im not crazy about steltz but i would rather have guys with well defined roles on the defense instead of whatever steltz is considered now.

but hey, at least manning is excited. too bad it doesnt translate to excitement from the fans


Is he really going to be at FS that much? You've shared several times info you have from last year on how many of the plays each player was on the field. How many reps did Manning get at nickel? Or to ask another way, on what percentage of the defensive plays was the nickel back on the field?

By all acounts he has played well at nickel. My guess is that Manning will still spend a lot more time at nickel than at free safety because the nickel(or dime) package is used so often.

I understand and support Manning to free safety, as long as he can stay there and actually learn the position. But if he's good enough to play free safety on non-obvious passing downs, why isn't he good enough to be there in the Nickel package? Isn't the whole reason he's moving there instead of Stelz is because of his superior athletic ability to play "centerfield"? Isn't bringing Stelz back on the field in the Nickel just undoing the attempt to fix our problems in the secondary? Somebody please help me because I'm not understanding what Lovie's thinking is...although that wouldn't be a first!

Danieal Manning `ecstatic' about return to free safety ... Well that makes one anyone else?


Is it me or does the secondary look like some kind of damned Dali painting lately? Graham's at safety, he's not, he is, now Bowman's there, oh Tillman's out, now Boman's the corner, Steltz is the FS, wait now Manning is ... Jesus, I'd hate to be the guy in charge of updating the depth chart at Seriously, I hope this secondary issue can get cleaned up AND FAST.

So Manning is going to take FS to another level? I'd be happy if he could just keep his head out of his ass and start playing competently, which for him would be another level, I guess.

This guy's got all the physical tools.

It's what I said all along there is no way you can talk about putting your best athletes on the field and leave D. Manning out of the equation. I'll be the first to say that he has made coverage mistakes but taking into consideration his overall potential he is well worth the investment of time and effort in development. Too bad we turned a blind eye to Rickey Manning Jr and cut Chris Harris without doing the same for them imagine how much better off we would be. Speed wins in the secondary that's one of the reasons the Bears drafted Devein Hester in the first place. The DB's have been restricted in development by the previous coach and also by injuries, in this sport there is unfortunately no way to get around those but awaiting a full recovery from Charles Tillman would be paramount to improving coverage even if the line has trouble generating a pass rush to the QB. I thought it was a good move all along however I'm still having difficulty seeing how Stelz eclipses Gramham as the back up in the nickel package.

From Joe F above "Manning is physically what the prototype is for the Cover 2 safety: Fast, physical, and aggressive."

Couldn't agree more, Joe. Athletically, this is a great move and Manning makes more sense than anybody else on the roster. But it also scares me for two reasons:

1. It was well documented that Manning struggled in the past because he kept getting switched between nickel and safety and could consequently not master either position. This guy isn't exactly a football mastermind, but he is one heck of an athlete. I worry that giving him too much responsibility will again hinder his performance. Hopefully this fear is unwarranted and he now has a grasp of both positions after being in the same system for years.

2. As the nickel, Manning stayed relatively fresh enough to excel at kickoff returns. Now that he's playing every down, won't his production in the return game suffer? And haven't we seen this movie before?

More than anything, this move signals a great deal of trust that Lovie has in Jon Hoke. Manning will need all the help he can get to excel in this new role. Anything less than excellent coaching will result in a bunch of missed assignments and 80 yard TDs for the other team.

Manning is a guy who has a history of not being able to grasp the mental aspect of the game and now he's the FS, nickelback on passing downs along with continuing his KR duties? Keep grasping Lovie. I hope I only have to look at your confused mug on gameday 16 more times.

Safety is a position that depends a lot on football smarts, whether you want to call it instincts or whatever. Mike Brown and Gary Fencik had it, Daneal Manning doesn't. I hope he can learn whatever he needs to in order to be at least competent, but this is one position where smarts is far more important than physical ability (though of course you have to have a certain level of that). If you have Manning's physical ability and smarts, you can be great, but I don't think Manning has enough smarts to ever reach that level.

Manning already cost us a Super Bowl trophy and a playoff appearance (last year) playing FS.

How many times does he have to prove that he can't play the position? People keep saying he's not doing it well because they are moving him around, but that's exactly what they are going to do again this year (FS, nickel corner and KR).

How about instead of every year drafting safeties that they say can play either position, but everyone else thinks is a SS, they draft a real FS. They still don't have one on their roster, and it's one of the more important positions on this defense.


I agree with MikeMcDPhilly.

I like the guy, but aside from his missed assignments, from what I've seen, he's not a very good tackler either.

Yes, all this switching around may have hurt his growth at any of the positions, but it also indicates that he hasn't shown enough in his opportunities to make any of the positions his permanent home.

His kick returns should be another major and valuable weapon for the Bears, and while I do not think the extended playing time will affect him as much as Hester (because I think Manning is the type of guy that doesn't think too much about what he's doing and it doesn't take as much to get him pumped up), there is probably a threshold where his kr production will begin to suffer, and staying out on defense forever (if the defense can't stop the opposing offense) and then having to come right back after a score to return a kick just might do it.

While I am not a Steltz-at-FS fan, and would much rather see a guy like Graham in there which doesn't seem likely now, I hope somebody else emerges and we WON'T HAVE TO use Manning at FS.

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