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The Bears are making a move at the position they've changed more than any other under Lovie Smith.

No, Jay Cutler isn't headed to the bench for Caleb Hanie.

The Bears are going to do a safety dance. Again. Danieal Manning is headed to the bench this week against St. Louis and Kevin Payne will start in his place. Manning will probably return to his role as the nickel back, meaning Corey Graham will probably be the odd man out. Manning has had some issues in coverage recently. He was out of position on DeSean Jackson's long touchdown catch two weeks ago. He remains the most athletic member of the secondary, but it hasn't translated into lots of plays.

The move could be a creation of the Bears' desire to shut down the Rams' Steven Jackson, who enters second in the league in rushing. Jackson hasn't practiced for the last two days because of a back issue, but he's expected to play. His production has been terrific, especially when you consider the issues St. Louis (1-10) faces on offense. The Rams have trailed all season--they rarely play with the lead--and yet their passing offense ranks 22nd. Whether it's Marc Bulger or Kyle Boller, who will start this week, they are struggling to move the ball through the air. The speedy Donnie Avery is the only wide receiver who was on the roster at the start of the season, amazing turnover when you consider it.

Center Olin Kreutz remained sidelined at practice for the second consecutive day today.

The veteran missed Monday's 75-minute practice, and it wasn't a veteran's day off if he's still sideline today. He completed the game last Thursday at San Francisco, but may have suffered some type of rib injury. We'll see if more details are available after practice and when the injury report is released.

Kreutz has a long history of durability and has missed just one game since the start of the 2001 season, a 2002 matchup at St. Louis after he had his appendix removed. The guess here is he's ready to play Sunday night.

Linebacker Lance Briggs was credited with a season-high 15 tackles after coaches finished reviewing game film of Sunday's loss to Arizona.

It hasn't been a good number for the Bears, though, as Briggs was also credited with 15 tackles in the loss at Cincinnati. The weak-side Pro Bowl standout now has a team-high 79 tackles, putting him on pace for 158. His career high is 176 in 2006.

Middle linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer was credited with a season-high 12 tackles. Danieal Manning made nine and Kevin Payne added eight.

The statistic that didn't show was the number of missed tackles the coaches tallied up. When asked about the Cardinals rushing for a season-high 182 yards, Lovie Smith blamed missed tackles as much as anything. Arizona entered the game averaging less than 65 yards rushing per game.

Three games into the era of Lovie Smith as defensive coordinator, I took a look at the tendencies the team has had using the blitz thus far. ESPN.com put out some interesting numbers earlier in the week showing that the Bears were blitzing more than 47 percent of the time, second-most in the league.

Smith didn't want to talk about tendencies, but said he goes into the game each week with a plan in mind and then adjusts as the game unfolds. If you'll recall, he put the blame on himself for one blitz at Seattle last week. The Seahawks were facing third-and-19 from the Bears' 39-yard line, and Smith called the blitz. Seneca Wallace dumped a little screen pass into the flat to Julius Jones and he broke an arm tackle try by cornerback Charles Tillman along the sideline to scoot all the way to the end zone. The Bears rushed six on the play--linemen Adewale Ogunleye, Tommie Harris and Israel Idonije, linebackers Lance Briggs and Hunter Hillenmeyer and free safety Kevin Payne. Right end Mark Anderson dropped into coverage. There was minimal pressure but plenty of open space for Jones. With long odds for the Seahawks to pick up 19 yards, Smith probably wishes he would have been more conservative.

It's a zone pressure similar to what was diagrammed here at the National Football Post by Matt Bowen, who played safety in the league under Smith in St. Louis. One of the first blitzes Smith installed when he got to St. Louis was "Storm." Bowen does a great job of taking you through the X's and O's and explaining how and why the play works. He details the responsibilities in coverage.

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.

I've spent four weeks here analyzing some of the things I'll be looking when when the whistle blows at 3 p.m. Friday and the Bears get rolling with their first practice of the season. Now it's time to turn over some space to the trained eye of Tom Thayer, who lists his occupation on his IRS paperwork every April as a "football describer.''

Thayer, the color analyst for WBBM-780 AM, will be at training camp and will offer daily updates for the Bears' flagship station. Here is what Thayer offered:

"There are three things I will be looking at and one of them is the free agents, the newcomers, [Jay] Cutler, Pisa [Tinoisamoa], [Orlando] Pace, big Frank [Omiyale], [Kevin] Shaffer, [Josh] Bullocks, these guys that came in. I want to start looking at those guys and see if they really are what they are, if they're going to fit in, what they're going to do to the team and how they're changing it. Then, I have a key selection of veterans who have been here already who are on the roster who I really want to pay attention to to see if they re-emerge, if they're playing like they did last year, if they're not involved in the betterment of the football team the way they should be due to their position on the roster and with the team and all that. My guys here are [Nathan] Vasher, [Brian] Urlacher, Tommie [Harris], Kevin Jones, Wale [Ogunleye], Nick Roach.

"And then [Johnny] Knox, [Juaquin] Iglesias and D.J. Moore are some rookies I want to watch. I think Moore may have a place. He is one of the three guys of the rooks I am looking at who may need to come in and just provide interest. Just to see if they can help in any way. There is a specific group and positioning of players that I am interested in looking at first. Then I think if you are looking at a position specifically, I still have concerns about the safety position. I like Kevin Payne but there is a battle for all other interior defensive back positions. Payne is only going to be pushed by himself. He is a guy who has to stay healthy. You can go out there and Kevin Payne can show flashes of brilliance and then he can pop his head in there and come out, get dinged, and you're back to square one. My only issue with Kevin Payne is durability.''

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Continuing with 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 safeties.

Projected starters: SS Kevin Payne, 6-0, 212, 3rd season, Louisiana-Monroe; FS Craig Steltz, 6-1, 210, 2nd season, LSU

Others

Al Afalava 5-11, 212, Rookie, Oregon State
Josh Bullocks 6-0, 207, 5th season, Nebraska
Dahna Deleston 6-0, 211, Rookie, Connecticut
Glenn Earl 6-1, 212, 5th season, Notre Dame
* Corey Graham 6-0, 198, 3rd season, New Hampshire

* Graham was listed in the cornerback 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

SS: Payne, Bullocks
FS: Steltz, Graham, Bullocks

2009 salary cap numbers

Al Afalava $335,150
Josh Bullocks $1,200,000
Dahna Deleston $311,666
Glenn Earl $540,200
Corey Graham $502,575
Kevin Payne $502,700
Craig Steltz $501,676

Number of safeties on the roster at the start of the 2008 season:
5 (counting Danieal Manning)

Projected number of safeties on 2009 roster at start of the season: 4 (counting Graham but excluding Manning, who is listed with cornerbacks)

The skinny:
Safety might be the position where you find the most legitimate and real competition for a starting job going on in camp, certainly on the defensive side of the ball. Nothing is locked down here but Payne will probably emerge as the strong safety and he played well there at times last season. The switch with Mike Brown in midseason when Payne was shifted to free safety didn't play to his strengths. Payne is a physical player who had offseason shoulder surgery a year after missing most of his rookie season with a broken arm, so he needs to stay on the field to create a longterm future for himself. Remember, it was the addition of Payne in the 2007 draft that was the leading factor in the team trading Chris Harris away to Carolina. Payne has a decent nose for the ball and does well when he has it in his hands, a product of his early days in college when he was a running back.

What will happen with Steltz? He's been labeled strictly a strong safety by some in the organization but it was the fourth-round pick from 2008 who spent a lot of time at free safety during the offseason program. Steltz doesn't have the range you'd like there, but he's intelligent and is a strong communicator and those attributes right there might given him an edge. We're interested to see how it plays out in the opening days of camp and who goes where. Of course, how they open in July isn't always how they open in September. Remember, the Bears moved the secondary all around before the final preseason game last year, promoting Payne, benching Brandon McGowan and in doing so taking Danieal Manning out of the nickel role.

There is more than a $20 bill in Jerry Angelo's pocket.

The general manager likes to joke that he doesn't have money burning a hole in his wallet, and often references having an Andy Jackson in his pocket. That may be the case but the Bears have much more than that remaining in room under the 2009 salary cap.

A check on Wednesday afternoon of the most recent figures indicates that the Bears remain $17.67 million under their adjusted salary-cap figure of $135.9 million. That means the organization has committed 86.99 percent of its cap to this point and there is plenty of room left over for spending.

More and more it seems unlikely Plaxico Burress will be sitting down to the table to enjoy a piece of that (salary cap) pie. During our company-imposed vacation, Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports reported that commissioner Roger Goodell could come down hard on Burress and make it difficult for him to be on the field in 2009. Burress has reportedly turned down plea deals that would have landed him in the poky for a short amount of time, so short that he could have already done his time and be out on the street. Now, the case is trudging along through the New York court system. Goodell wants accountability from players and when Burress, who had a hole in his leg from his unlicensed hand gun, does all he can to avoid that accountability, it might not bode well for him when it comes time to hear from the league.

Burress' agent Drew Rosenhaus is doing all he can to drum up business, reporting recently that five teams are now interested in Burress. Well, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have come out and said you can count them out. There was a report out of New York that the Jets may have cooled on the idea. If the Bears are not in play, Rosenhaus' list just got trimmed in half, at least.

So, let's take a look at where that $17.67 million could go. Remember, general manager Jerry Angelo and president Ted Phillips said that although streamlining was going on in the organization, the football budget would not be affected by the economy.

1. Jay Cutler. We wrote here previously that the Bears will look to do something long term with Cutler, perhaps during the season. They'll need to make that move in October probably in order to take advantage of the cap room and apply money to this season. It makes perfect sense. Yes, Cutler remains under contract for three more seasons. But he has a $12 million roster bonus in 2012 that the team would probably like to avoid. Forget the idea of waiting to see how Cutler performs. They got him for the long haul and they're going to invest in him for the long haul. But quarterback deals take time to put together. Why not start during training camp?

Kevin Payne and Craig Steltz spent Wednesday running with the first team at safety. That could be one of the more compelling positions to watch come training camp, but coach Lovie Smith said the voluntary offseason program has helped answer some questions. Steltz, no question, has been one of the bigger climbers this offseason. The belief is his instincts and smarts will help make up for a lack of range at free safety.

"It's clearer,'' Smith said, of the position. "There are lot of positions that will go down to training camp. We're excited about where we right now, but we have to get there and then we'll really know. The next part of the evaluation process is to see the guys in pads, then in the preseason games.

"I like our preseason schedule, the teams that we have to play to get ready. A team like Buffalo that can run and pass, a similar offense. The next week a physical team like the Giants coming in. The third game of course is normally the game that everyone looks at, and to go on the road playing of course in a prime-time game, all of that is getting us ready for of course the Packers.''

*** Corey Graham was not in the mix at safety. He's been playing nickel cornerback since Danieal Manning was "nicked'' last week. Graham has gotten work at nickel, safety and cornerback this offseason. Graham played nickel for two games last season.

"You're just trying to find a way to play no matter where it is--safety, corner or nickel,'' Graham said. "It doesn't really matter to me. I just want to get out on the field and try to help out.''

*** Staying in the secondary, Charles Tillman was out as he continues to work his way back from shoulder surgery. Zack Bowman got work at left corner with the starters, and Smith singled him out for his work the past few months. Proving he can stay healthy moving forward will be the key.

The player who stood out Wednesday was Trumaine McBride, who was with the second team at right corner. McBride picked off a pass that went off the hands of Devin Hester and then broke up passes to Michael Gaines and Adrian Peterson on the next two snaps. Three snaps and three plays on the ball.

*** Caleb Hanie has clearly taken control of whatever competition there is to be the backup quarterback. He's edged ahead of Brett Basanez. Hanie throws a good deep ball and that was evident on his pass to Juaquin Iglesias on the final play of the workout.

We took a look at the breakdown of playing time on special teams on Monday, and today we're going to tackle how the playing time was divided in the secondary last season. Obviously, the big piece the Bears are trying to replace is veteran safety Mike Brown, who is expected to visit the Cleveland Browns after a free-agent trip to Kansas City last week.

Corey Graham has been shifted from cornerback to safety, and Craig Steltz and Josh Bullocks are also in the mix. Graham ranked fourth in playing time in the secondary last season, so he has ample experience on the field for a player entering his third season.

Here is the breakdown:

TOTAL DEFENSIVE PLAYS: 1,111

SS/FS Kevin Payne 1,101 of 1,111, 99.1 percent, 16/16 starts/games
CB Charles Tillman 948 of 1,111, 85.3 percent, 15/15 starts/games
FS/SS Mike Brown 924 of 1,111, 83.2 percent, 15/15 starts/games
CB Corey Graham 714 of 1,111, 64.3 percent, 9/16 starts/games
CB Nathan Vasher 438 of 1,111, 39.4 percent, 7/8 starts/games
CB/S Danieal Manning 370 of 1,111 33.3 percent, 1/14 starts/games
S Craig Steltz, 141 of 1,111, 12.7 percent, 0/11 starts/games
CB Trumaine McBride, 93 of 1,111, 8.4 percent, 1/16 starts/games
CB Marcus Hamilton, 46 of 1,111, 4.1 percent, 0/8 starts/games
CB Zack Bowman, 20 of 1,111, 1.8 percent, 0/1 starts/games

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The Bears launched into their latest effort to create a free safety on Wednesday when Corey Graham was officially moved to the position.

New defensive backs coach Jon Hoke pointed out that Graham has some history to draw on in making the switch from cornerback. He played free safety as a senior in high school and then spent two games there during his career at New Hampshire. That's only a little more history than say Chris Chandler's experience as a Bears quarterback in the earlier portions of this decade. Hey, he did hit Dez White for that 76-yard bomb of a touchdown in the 2002 game at Carolina.

"I was pretty good at it, to be honest,'' Graham said, recalling the good ol' days. "So I've just got to get back used to it. I think the more reps I get, the better I'll get at it.''

Graham seems like a logical fit when you consider he's got the range and coverage skills the Bears have lacked at free safety for some time. That won't be an issue and the club essentially operated with two strong safeties last season using the departed Mike Brown and Kevin Payne.

Then we came on something else that might have caught the Bears' attention when considering this switch--Graham was far and away the most involved defensive player when it came to plays made per snap on the field. Sure, there was reason to have concern with some of his work filling in for Nathan Vasher at right cornerback last season, but Graham always seemed to be involved. These numbers support that. Take a look at the club's top six leading tacklers from 2008:

WLB Lance Briggs--136 tackles, 1,108 snaps


SS/FS Kevin Payne--129 tackles, 1,101 snaps

MLB Brian Urlacher--107 tackles, 1,110 snaps

FS/SS Mike Brown--101 tackles, 924 snaps

CB Corey Graham--93 tackles, 714 snaps

CB Charles Tillman--91 tackles, 948 snaps

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Jay Cutler had one pitch on Wednesday at Halas Hall and it will still get some work to get used to apparently.

While the world coming out of Halas Hall the past few weeks has been that the wide receivers have been catching everything in sight, that wasn't the case at the first OTA of the offseason as passes were routinely dropped. Yes, Cutler's fastball arrives with more heat than what the Bears are accustomed to seeing, but it's not like this workout was the first time the team has been around him. If there are push-ups to be done for the drops, the Bears will have a strong group of wide receivers soon.

"It takes a little time to adjust,'' offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "They know they better get their head around and get their hands up because that ball's going to be there."

Overall, the energy level was high with a lot more excitement than the team had say in March at the mandatory minicamp. Most of Cutler's work was done underneath and he said it was good to work against defensive players. Plenty of national media came in for the unveiling of Cutler and all of the focus was on him.

"No, no, not yet,'' Cutler said when asked if it's his team now. "This is a defensive-kind of run team with Brian [Urlacher] and Lance [Briggs] and some of those guys and Olin [Kreutz] offensively. That's going to come in time. You can't rush things like that. You've got to kind of take things in stride and get guys to trust you and have confidence in you and hopefully by Game 1 they're all behind me."

A few notes:

*** Pisa Tinoisamoa, pictured above watching practice today by the Sun-Times' Al Podgorski, visited with plenty of coaches and players alike during practice before going into meetings with coaches and front office personnel after practice. He will be given a physical during his visit.

*** Josh Beekman worked with the starters at left guard but acknowledged he's in a full-fledged competition with Frank Omiyale for the starting job.

*** Craig Steltz lined up with the starters at free safety and Kevin Payne was next to him at strong safety. Ultimately, Steltz will probably push Payne for the starting job.

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Kevin Payne category.

Kevin Ogletree is the previous category.

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