Chicago Sun-Times

Safety shuffle: Manning moved into starting lineup

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Two changes in the Bears' starting lineup on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers will be necessitated by injury.

Two more are part of coach Lovie Smith's plan to revamp the secondary, which ranked 30th in the league last season vs. the pass, and surrendered the game-winning 50-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers to a wide open Greg Jennings last week at Green Bay.

Danieal Manning has been moved into the starting free safety position, a move Smith tried to make the week before training camp before Manning's pesky hamstring injury foiled those plans. But when Kevin Payne bit on a play fake by Rodgers and abandoned his spot in the deep post to let Jennings go uncontested after cornerback Nathan Vasher slipped, well, most figured something was coming. That's because change isn't really inevitable in the Bears' secondary as it is habitual. This marks the 18th change the Bears have made at free safety in Smith's tenure, a span of 82 games.

"I'm excited,'' Manning said. "It's a great opportunity. I'm quite sure they're going to throw deep a lot, especially me coming back from a hammy injury, they're going to try to go deep."

Manning is the most athletic of the defensive backs, and Smith believes the second-round pick from 2006 has made great strides since being moved into the nickel role last season. Manning has the best range of any safety, and is playing with more instincts now. He sacked Rodgers for a safety at Green Bay. Payne goes to the sideline and rookie sixth-round draft pick Al Afalava will remain the starter at strong safety. When he started last week at Green Bay, that marked the 15th change in starting strong safeties since 2004.

The Bears announced on Thursday that Zack Bowman would take over at cornerback for Vasher. Injuries will sideline middle linebacker Brian Urlacher and strong-side linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa. Hunter Hillenmeyer replaces Urlacher and Nick Roach is expected to start in Tinoisamoa's spot, however he will share reps with Jamar Williams. What happens in the nickel package remains to be seen. Payne could enter the game as the free safety and Manning could slide to nickel, or it could open the door for Corey Graham to get on the field as the nickel.

We've made plenty of references to the quarterback carousel with the Bears. The change has been even more rapid in the secondary with some of it due to injuries and other switches due to performance. The Bears have tried to go with mid- to late-round draft cases in many instances. Here is the safety shuffle and how the Bears have rotated starters:

2004

Strong: Mike Green
Free: Mike Brown, Todd Johnson, R.W. McQuarters, Todd Johnson

2005

Strong: Brown, Johnson, Green, Brandon McGowan
Free: Green, Chris Harris, Green, McGowan, Harris

2006

Strong: Brown, Johnson, Harris
Free: Harris, Danieal Manning

2007

Strong: Adam Archuleta, McGowan, Archuleta, McGowan
Free: Brown, Manning, McGowan, Manning

2008

Strong: Kevin Payne, Brown, Payne
Free: Brown, Payne, Manning

2009

Strong: Al Afalava
Free: Payne, Manning

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14 Comments

Wow on this one Brad, I don't mind seeing Manning tried again at the spot, but I'm really surprised to see Payne taken out the line-up. I think his potemtial is off the charts at Safety although he is better at strong safety as proven out by his tackling numbers in that spot over the years he's been on the club. Alfalva must really be playing well to suplant Payne as full time starter. I'd have to assume the plan is to use Graham now as the nickel in Manning's place, and I'd expect to see Payne splitting reps at strong with Alfalva this week, Payne is a playmaker he has to be on the field, he's always around the ball and he tackles well, this shows Lovie means business this week, I hope it works out!

Glad to see jamar getting a look also, we spent a high draft pick on him he should have broken into the line-up a long time ago, but injuries seem to hold him back. He can be an added dimension to the defense's ability to make plays in space. It's time for some of the young guys to make a name for themselves on this side of the ball......Go BEARS we need a win this week!

What about Beekman? Are the coaches just ignoring this issue, or does contract status really trump skill on this team. And you can't use Vasher as an example because it took them this long to replace him.

Anthony, good point. Maybe the coaches are seeing something different but Omiyale just plain sucked from what I saw. Brad, any news on why Beekman isn't taking over or is there faith that Omiyale will turn things around? He did also get hurt at Green Bay.

Alright Manning, this is it. Like Brad said, he's the best athlete in the secondary and quite possibly on the whole team. If he really shows the ability to man the free safety spot, if he really gets it now, then add that in with his physical attributes and he could be something special. If Manning works out, Jamar Williams lives up to his training camp hype, and Pisa comes back sooner than later, then Urlacher's absence could be slightly negated and we will still have a solid group of defensive players.

Also I don't see why Manning would move to nickel from free on passing downs. Wouldn't you want your fastest guy back there? For goodness sake, get Graham in there already at nickel and the secondary doesn't look so bad anymore.

Maybe??? Omiyale needs a couple games?? But he sure looked lost against the pack! I would like to see Beekman. I am sure he is Olin's understudy but we need the best team in there now.
Maybe Lovie can see the D problems now that he is Coach of the D? cause he is making changes - unlike last year.

Glad to hear about Bowman finally taking that starting spot. He just better stay healthy enough to keep it because when and only if he's healthy, he's a much better cb than Vasher. As for Kevin Payne, no problem with sliding Danieal Manning who had his own share of problems in the past for biting on run fakes too early himself, but here's to hoping that experience will finally make him learn for the better. The Bears have a lot of bodies in that secondary. I'm hoping someone can finally step up their game.

Hey Brad, can you find out any info if the Bears are interested at all in TJ Duckett? He recently was waived by the Seahawks even though he was reportedly healthy and in good shape. The guy's only 28 years old and might be a decent compliment to Forte especially in goal line situations. Please provide the inside scoop!!

Manning and a rookie back there are not exactly my idea of "safety." I think Payne is a better tackler and has better instincts than Manning, but that's my image of Manning up to last year. If he's matured and is going to start, I hope it's for the long term, and that he really breaks out.

I thought Afalava played well in GB, but it has to be tough for Payne who led the Bears in interceptions last year and proved himself to be a durable, hard hitting player.

For the last time, all this shuffling is a result of letting Mike Brown walk prematurely, without obtaining or identifying a true heir.

Bowman in the starting lineup was determined before the season started, and the other changes are dictated by injuries. Wouldn't it be exciting if these substitutes just all of a sudden break out like pro-bowlers!

I agree with all of you on Omiyale. For some reason, he didn't look like he was playing with any heart. He was getting beat badly but looked uninterested in saving his QB and RB. I don't think he got caught for a hold either; he just let his target go free. I would give him another shot to redeem himself this Sunday, but if he gets man-handled again, I would switch to Beekman, who if nothing else plays with a lot of heart, even mid-game. I hope it doesn't come to that. Go Bears!

Lovie is starting to act like a head coach, nice, I like it.

You blow coverage you pay, Payne blew coverage and it was more than once during the game, he only was burned once because of Rodgers inability to connect on the other play deep.

Agree with the group, Manning is hugely talented but not so great in the past because of not knowing the position and biting on play action then getting burned. I hope he could work out because if he finally gets it, he could be a fantastic free safety.

Also like Graham as the nickel, I hope Lovie goes in that direction. Graham is the logical choice. He would be a great nickel player and or free safety if Manning does not succeed.

This Alfalava kid seems to be pretty special, Love it!!!

Beekman deserves a shot back at guard if Omilyale does not come up bit time this game.

With Manning and Bowman out there the Bears could be in for a long day. A few mistakes and they're down by 14 or 20, now they have to air it out and Pittsburgh's D will pin their ears back and go after Cutler. Manning and Bowman are clearly the most talented at their positions, but Manning has yet to show that he knows how to play safety and Bowman is still learning how to play cornerback. I hope this works out, but I'll be crossing my fingers so hard I hope they don't break.

For those of you clamoring for Beekman, remember that he was pretty bad last year, too. I agree that Omiyale was awful, but he has size and strength well beyond Beekman's and hopefully will improve a lot. If not, the Bears can go back to Beekman for the rest of this season, but that would mean that they still need a left guard. This is what they get for not drafting linemen in the first rounds for so long and not picking up good free agents who were available. The book on Omiyale before he came to the Bears was that he was a tackle, not a guard.

Great moves, Lovie!!!......Just one game too late though......Will Hillenmeyer stay on the field in the nickel package? He can't cover Crieghton let alone a tightend!

Danieal Manning certainly has the athleticism/range to be a heck of a free safety, thats never been an issue with D-Man. The issue has always been the mental part of the position. The hope is that playing a season in the nickle has helped Manning see the entire defense better, and now has a better understanding of the position. Although, one has to wonder how D-Man would have developed had he been left strictly at free safety? If Manning now has the mental part of the position down, Chicago has their free safety position solved. With Manning's athleticism, he could be a good one.

If Manning comes on, and 2nd year corner Zack Bowman can stay healthy/ make some big plays like he did in the OTA's & pre-season, Chicago's secondary is looking pretty good. And the secondary was the weak link to the defense, if a couple players step up [Manning/Bowman], Chicago's looking pretty good in the defensive backfield.

Wrigley Field Bear, while I agree Omiyale should get a little more time to prove himself, I don't think Beekman was as bad as you think. Beekman was a first year starter last year, so he was gonna be a little behind, but as the year went on I thought Beekman played better. And had he been given a chance to start this season, could have surprised. Especially with a year of starting experience under his belt. If Omiyale continues to struggle, Beekman needs to come in, and I think could surprise GO BEARS!!

Kevin,
Beekman was brought in to back up Kreutz and eventually start at center when Kreutz retires. He's too small to play guard and I don't see him ever being a good one. That said, there's no way they can leave Omiyale on the field unless he plays a lot better than he did in Green Bay, starting this Sunday v. Pittsburgh.

Wrigley Field Bear, I disagree that Josh Beekman is too small to play guard. Think about this, Josh Beekman is 6-2 310lbs, Omiyale is 6-4 310lbs. Thats only a 2 inch difference. Now, maybe it they were at tackle that would make a difference, where being taller with a longer wingspan helps vs pass rushers outside. But inside a long wingspan/height isn't as important as weight, or stoutness is, to be able to get inside of your opponent to get some kind of push for the running game. If anything, Beekman is actually more stout being 310lbs at 6-2, wheres Omiyale is 310lbs at 6-4, his weight is actually more spread out, making him skinnier if you think about it.

Also Wrigley, some of the leagues better guards are around the same size as Beekman [6-2 310lbs]. Miami's Justin Smiley is [6-3 310lbs], Baltimore's Ben Grubbs is [6-3 315lbs], New York Giant's Chris Snee is [6-3 317lbs], and Jets guard Brandon Moore is [6-3 295lbs]. Look up all these guys, their all some of the leagues better guards, and their all around the same size as Beekman. As you can see from the above mentioned players, you don't have to be 6-4 330lbs to be an effective run-blocker. Its more about getting on your block and staying there. And I'm telling ya, Beekman would be twice as effective this year vs last because he knows Chicago's offense much better than he did as a first year starter. Knowing the offense will make all the difference for Beekman to get on his block and get some push now that he won't have to think so much. That could be part of Omiyale's problem, because not only does he have to learn Chicago's offense, he has to learn a whole different position guard, Omiyale has been a tackle for most of his career. I like him better as a tackle, but if he remains at guard, I hope he can improve, we'll see GO BEARS!!

Tough call here, but Payne did blow the coverage. Maybe Manning will be smarter, and that's key with the time Ben R. holds the ball. Let's hope the Bears make him pay dearly for that habit. He's tough, but getting sacked and knocked flat a few times softens him up. He also makes mistakes when pushed hard consistently.

I feel that Beekman can play LG - but he was brought in as Olin's replacement so he will be there eventually (next year?) but for now - give Omiyale the start of this game - then Beekman asap even in the middel of this game. The Oline is the key - if Omiyale struggles early with Pace then we need a change asap.

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This page contains a single entry by Brad Biggs published on September 18, 2009 1:19 PM.

Bears will be on the lookout for Pittsburgh's Hines Ward was the previous entry in this blog.

Keys to game: Bears know the significance of not starting 0-2 is the next entry in this blog.

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