Chicago's CB situation a mess

The Bears cornerbacks were torched early and often last night against the Packers. It's been a position of weakness all year and will require plenty of tweaking this upcoming offseason.

The Chicago Bears demoted starting cornerback Tim Jennings last week in favor of Zack Bowman. Bears coaches wanted to get a good look at Bowman, to see if he might be worth keeping next season.

Chicago drafted Bowman in the fifth round in 2008. He did little his freshman season but started 12 games in his second year, leading the team in interceptions (6). He showed great cover skills and was aggressive going after the ball. The Bears handed him the starting job opposite Charles Tillman heading into 2010, yet it only took three games before he was benched in favor of Jennings – who didn't relinquish the starting job until last week.

During Bowman's three-game stretch as a starter to open last year, he did not show the same awareness and athleticism in man coverage as he had the previous season. He was beat repeatedly by opposing receivers. It all came to a head in Week 3, when the Green Bay Packers made him look silly. In addition to getting beat in man coverage, Bowman struggled supporting the run. For these reasons, the team made the switch to Jennings, who is a tougher player in run support. Yet Jennings has been in consistent this year, which led to his demotion.

Yet last night, Bowman showed he may not have much a future in the NFL. He was beat over and over against Green Bay, by both Jordy Nelson and James Jones. He gave up three touchdown passes and was called for two crucial pass interference calls. Bowman could not matchup with the Packers' wideouts, who were able to create separation all evening, particularly near the end zone. Aaron Rodgers picked on Bowman all night and there was nothing the 27-year-old could do about it.


WR James Jones & CB Tim Jennings
Doug Pensinger/Getty

Just like last season, Green Bay showed Chicago's coaches that Bowman just cannot cut it as a starter in the NFL. It's safe to say, unless he comes backs with three picks in the season finale, Bowman's time with the team will be done at the finish of 2011.

The failed Bowman experiment puts the Bears in a perilous spot regarding its cornerbacks. Jennings is just not good enough in man coverage and does not have enough speed to be a starter. He's better suited as a nickelback out of the slot, as he just cannot keep up with fast receivers on the outside. He'll be a free agent after this season and it's unlikely he'll be re-signed.

On the other side, Tillman can hold his own on most occasions but he has definitely lost a step. He still has a penchant for game-changing turnovers but he can no longer be counted on to shut down the opposing team's top receiver on a consistent basis. In this writer's opinion, he would be better served at the safety position going forward.

That leaves just D.J. Moore and Corey Graham at cornerback. Moore has found his spot at nickelback and has had great success there. He leads all Bears corners with three interceptions this year. He's also strong against the run and has excelled as a blitzer off the edge. Moore is signed through next year and it's doubtful the team will pull him out of the nickel spot, where he's been so effective.

Graham is the wild card here. He filled in for Moore for during a three-game stretch in late November/early December and pulled in three picks of his own. He showed great awareness out of the slot and had a knack for being around the ball. He's the captain of the special teams as well and has great value as a member of the coverage units. He signed a one-year deal this past offseason and will be looking for a chance to sign with a team willing to play him regularly on defense next year.

The Bears might want to consider giving him that opportunity. In his five seasons with Chicago, Graham has started just 10 games at corner, yet has performed well whenever given the opportunity. He just hasn't had many looks on defense. With everyone else around him failing, the Bears might want to see if he can handle the load as a starter.

Yet promoting Graham isn't an ideal scenario. He's been with this team since 2007. If the Bears felt he could be the starter, they would have put in that spot by now. It appears the front office will need to look outside the organization to shore up the cornerback position this offseason.

That must start in the draft. The Bears have four selections in the first three rounds of the 2012 draft. One of those picks needs to be on corner with good cover skills, preferably one that can tackle as well. They have to find a young guy who can perform when put on an island in man coverage.

It would also behoove the team to bring in a veteran free agent as well. There will be a number of quality players on the open market this year, including Brent Grimes, Courtland Finnegan, Terrell Thomas, Carlos Rogers and Rashean Mathis. Grimes would be ideal, as he's a ball hawk that earned a trip to the Pro Bowl last year.

Whatever the solution, the Bears have to do something. The team ranks 29th against the pass and has not been able to keep up with top-tier passing attacks this year. If the organization does not upgrade at corner, expect them to be at the bottom of the league against the pass next season as well.

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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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