Just three units left before I have to figure out another offseason activity (probably previews since that's all the damn offseason ever consists of). Today I move onto the secondary, easily the most improved unit the Bears had in 2010.
#35 Zack Bowman, Cornerback
Bowman should be very thankful that Lovie Smith thought so highly of him coming out of college. He earned his way into Lovie's doghouse very early this year and wasn't very good in 2009 despite his deceptive interception total. Bowman has an undeniable amount of talent. He's got a good blend of size and speed at 6'1'', 197,which makes him slightly bigger than Charles Tillman with much greater speed. That's the reason why the Bears made the ill-advised decision to make him the left cornerback this year, one that nearly cost them the first game against Detroit when Zack was repeatedly torched by Calvin Johnson on the last drive and allowed the Touchdown-That-Wasn't. Then Bowman gave up 10 catches and 142 yards to Miles Austin the next week before Lovie decided he'd seen enough and put in the over-achieving Tim Jennings. This isn't a complicated system for cornerbacks. All they have to do is generate turnovers and keep everything in front of them. Bowman allowed too much of the big play in his brief stint as the starter last year, and I still don't expect him to win his job back this year, although Lovie will give him the opportunity.
31 Joshua Moore, Cornerback
Joshua was the other Moore in the Bears secondary this year and he didn't really do anything. He was active for just 3 games and registered no stats. So I have no idea if he's any good at all, and whether he's seriously going to be given equal consideration in a competition with Bowman and Jennings for a starting role. D.J. Moore did play in just 3 games with no stats his rookie year and made a huge impact in year two, so there's hope.
30 D.J. Moore, Cornerback
When the Cover 2 is working well, nickelback is often the most fun position to play on defense. The nickelback is usually covering the slot receiver or tight end, the guy the quarterback is likely to go to in hot-route situations, so when the pass rush hits hard and things start to break down, the ball's often headed in D.J. Moore's direction. He profited big time by racking up four interceptions (including 2 huge ones during the game in Dallas), 8 pass deflections, a forced fumble, 37 tackles, and a defensive touchdown one of his interceptions. He's not a great cover corner and Calvin Johnson destroyed him on a 45 yard touchdown catch during the game in Detroit, but he's not required to be in this role. I was glad to see that Lovie has stated that the competition for the job opposite Charles Tillman won't include D.J., since playing nickel in this defense is a completely different job than playing starting corner, and it would be foolish for the team to move a player who was so great in that role in just his second year in the NFL. I look for D.J. to match or top his numbers next year. Also, he's f*&king hilarious, if anyone heard his "Shit, ain't nobody wanna lose to the Lions, Geez Louise" comment last year.
26 Tim Jennings, Cornerback
Jennings came over from Indianapolis in a very quiet free agent signing last year. He'd burned out with the Colts, where he was considered a huge disappointment as a failed second round pick. The good thing about that was that it meant that Jennings did have second round talent. I don't know if the Bears' DB coaches are just that good or whether Jennings just had a light go on, but he was a very valuable contributor and a major upgrade from Zack Bowman and he stabilized that half of the field. He still had his weaknesses, as evidenced by the 145 yards receiving he allowed to Stevie Johnson of the Bills, among others, but, for the most part, he wasn't a liability and he had an interception, seven pass breakups, a forced fumble, and 39 tackles in 13 starts. I don't think his ceiling is much higher than what he managed last year, so I think the team is certainly right to open the spot back up to competition. Either way, they're going to need to find a long term solution since Tillman is definitely on the back end of his career.
33 Charles Tillman, Cornerback
Tillman takes too much shit. I've beaten this point home time and again, but I still think most Bears fans just snapped after the Steve Smith Game in 2005 and haven't ever been able to forgive P'Nut (which is particularly stupid, since Tillman wasn't even responsible for covering Smith during most of that game). The problem is that too many people still don't get the point of the Tampa 2 defense. I understand that it's frustrating. When you explain to somebody the role of a cornerback, you usually start with "they cover the wide receivers," so cause and effect makes you want to point the finger at Tillman every time somebody gains a yard over on his side of the field. My illustrious friend Fro Dog suffers from this simply dichotomy over at FireDustyBaker2.com, and I sympathize with his 11-on-11 mentality. He's just dead wrong.
The truth is that Charles Tillman is pretty good at his job. It sucks that he's losing a step and is, at best, a number two corner that you shift over to #1 based on the size/speed of the wideout that he's matched up against, but for a long time now he's been about as effective of a cornerback as one can ask for in that system. He's not Nnamdi Asomugha, it's true, but he's not supposed to be. You can probably count the number of times the Bears require their corners to play straight-up man-to-man in a game on one hand. Tillman's a sure tackler, he generates a ton of turnovers, and he doesn't get beat deep. That's it. That's what you want from that position in this situation, and he gives it to you.
This year he had 5 interceptions (tying his career high), 14 pass breakups, 4 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries, and 72 tackles while starting all 16 games. In his career, Tillman's averaged 4 interceptions, 13 pass breakups, 3 forced fumbles, and 74 tackles in the seven seasons that he's been healthy. Those numbers compare pretty favorably to Ronde Barber, the gold standard in Tampa Two corners, who has averaged 3 ints, 11 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble, and 68 tackles a year in his career, and he gets nowhere near the shit that Tillman does. Hell, even Tillman's biggest fuck up this year, the long touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Deion Branch on the last play of the first half during the Patriots game, was actually Major Wright's fault for biting on the tight end seam and not getting over to give Tillman help over the top after Tillman released (stupid Four Verticals play. Bane of my existence). So yeah, Tillman haters, knock it off.
36 Josh Bullocks, Safety
Sucks. Did nothing of note in two years in Chicago, will now be gone. Fin.
21 Corey Graham, Safety
Wasn't very good at playing cornerback, so they moved him to safety. Wasn't very good at playing safety, so is now a special teams maven who led the team in special teams tackles, which isn't surprising since it was the only thing he did well as a defensive back. Way to find your niche, Corey.
20 Craig Steltz, Safety
27 Major Wright, Safety
Well, it's hard to say that Major Wright wasn't a disappointment this year. I had high hopes that he'd supplant Danieal Manning as the starter and that I wasn't wrong in thinking that his ball-hawking skills resembled a young Mike Brown. Instead, his durability resembled an old Mike Brown. Major had most of his training camp and preseason wiped out by injuries and only made it into 11 games this year with zero starts. Although he didn't record any interceptions, he did have a few flashes that gave me some hope. He'll have to make the biggest improvement next year out of anybody in the defensive backfield, since it is appearing increasingly unlikely that Danieal Manning will be back. Hopefully Wright can stay healthy enough and live up to his potential so that the loss will be negligible.
46 Chris Harris, Safety
Jerry Angelo made one of his best moves in years when he brought Chris Harris back this offseason for the superfluous Jamar Williams. Of course, trading away Chris Harris in order to make room for Adam Archuleta was still one of the dumbest moves of Jerry's career, so I'll restrain from giving him too much credit. Chris isn't flashy and he's not a top ten safety in any particular category. He's an above-average run defender and he's capable in pass coverage. That only makes him about 1000x better than the flotsam the Bears have rotated at that position since he left. He's also really good at hitting people, something I enjoy in my safeties. He was a steady veteran in a secondary that was mostly young and largely inexperienced. He had a career high five interceptions and added 70 tackles, although he failed to force a fumble after creating 12 of them in his three years in Carolina. He'll be back next year on the last year of his deal, and I'd expect him to earn an extension and lock down the spot for a few more years.
38 Danieal Manning, Safety
Speaking of extensions, it really sucks that Danieal rejected the one the Bears offered him. There's still hope that he'll return once the free agency period begins and the Bears can see what market value is for him, but if they lose him it'll really suck. I never imagined that I'd find myself saying that, but the numbers are undeniable: Danieal Manning was beyond outstanding last year. As PFF points out in that article, Manning allowed a passer rating of just 59.7 in his coverage, and didn't surrender a single touchdown all year long. Throw in 65 tackles (with just three missed tackles, something that used to be his biggest weakness) and you've got a guy who had a very quiet All-Pro caliber season. Naturally, after living up to his draft stock and talent for one year out of five, he rejects the Bears offer. I really hope they find a way to bring him back, because I have my doubts that Major Wright can be a top five safety. I'm willing to admit that I was wrong in saying that Lovie should have given up on the DanMan experiment a few years ago, although it's still hard to believe that the biggest reason the Bears secondary went from a strength to a weakness is the fact that Danieal himself went from the secondary's biggest weakness to it's biggest strength. Life is funny sometimes.