The safety position has been the bane of the Chicago Bears for decades. Over the past 21 years – since Mark Carrier’s third of three straight Pro Bowl appearances between 1991-1993 – the Bears have sent just one safety to the Pro Bowl: Mike Brown in 2005.
Larry Whigham, a career safety, made the Pro Bowl in 2001 but as a special teams player.
Other than that, Bears recent history has been spotty at best for the safety position. Names like Adam Archuleta, Al Afalava, Major Wright, M.D. Jennings, Brandon Hardin, Brandon Meriweather, Chris Conte and Kevin Payne are just a few players to have recently served on the safety carousel in Chicago.
In 2015, the search continues for a competent safety paring in the Windy City. The position appears up for grabs heading into training camp, where the two strongest performers will likely emerge as starters.
The safety battle in Bourbonnais will be fierce, so let’s break down each of the competitors.
Rolle is a 10-year NLF veteran who brings a truckload of experience to Chicago’s secondary. The 32-year-old is a two-time Pro Bowler who was a cornerback his first four years in the league.
Rolle is one of the best coverage safeties in the league. His experience as a corner gives him the ability to man up with opposing receivers and tight ends, using edge techniques on the back end. For a Bears defense that finished 30th against the pass in 2014, Rolle’s presence will be a huge boost.
In addition, Rolle brings leadership in spades and was by far the most vocal defender on the field during OTAs and minicamp. Instead of Chris Conte lining up the defense, Rolle will serve as the rock around which the secondary evolves.
He gives good effort as a run defender but Rolle is very inconsistent tackling in space. In fact, he’s led his team in missed tackles in five of his past seven seasons, and finished second the other two years, per Pro Football Focus (PFF). That’s somewhat unsettling for a defense that has struggled to bring down ball carriers the past two years.
It will be surprising if Rolle does not emerge from the preseason as a starter, as his experience will be invaluable for a defense in transition.
Vereen played 513 snaps as a rookie last year. While unspectacular, Vereen showed poise in his first season, gaining valuable experience along the way.
During off-season activities this year, Vereen lined up alongside Mundy with the first team. Obviously, the new coaching staff, including defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and secondary coach Ed Donatell, want to see what last year’s fourth rounder brings to the table.
A former collegiate cornerback, Vereen has good awareness and reaction time in coverage, and he’s aggressive against the run. He made a number of mental mistakes in 2014 but it was clear he has playmaking ability.
Now a “seasoned” second-year defender, Vereen will be given every opportunity to win the starting gig heading into the regular season. If he proves himself during camp and the preseason, he could emerge as a staple of the secondary going forward.
Last season, Mundy was the best player on a very poor defense. He led the Bears in 2014 in tackles (103) and interceptions (4), and was an uplifting presence in the locker room.
Mundy is a very solid player but the 30-year-old just doesn’t have the same upside as Vereen. As such, Mundy will need to earn back his starting spot once training camp begins next week.
Having Mundy in their back pocket is great for Chicago’s coaching staff. If Vereen falters, you can plug in the veteran and the defense won’t skip a beat.
And remember, Mundy started 10 games alongside Rolle in New York in 2013. That season, the Giants finished 10th in the NFL against the pass. That type of chemistry should allow Mundy and Rolle to hit the ground running if they end up the starting duo at any point this season.
Amos is the wildcard of this position group. The club used a fifth-round pick this year on the Penn State product, who brings a wealth of talent.
In his senior year, Amos was fourth in the nation in average yards allowed per coverage snap (0.30) and led the country in QB passer rating against (13.0), per PFF. Not only that, but he played more than a third of his snaps covering opposing receivers out of the slot.
He was also very effective as a blitzer, ranking eighth in the nation in pass rush productivity (11.2), according to PFF.
Amos has an immense skill set (he ran a reported 4.37 40-yard dash at his pro day) but he’s still very raw. Down the line, he has long-term starter potential but it might take the kid a year or two to develop.
Unless he lights up the preseason, expect Amos to serve as a primary backup this year and a potential starter next year.
Martin was signed after a tryout performance during veteran minicamp. He’s an interesting addition, as he’s started 38 games during his five-year NFL career, with eight interceptions and five forced fumbles.
Martin missed all of 2013 due to a torn ACL and started two games for the Jaguars last season, after four years in Carolina.
He’s not an elite cornerback but Martin will serve as quality depth in case of injuries to the top four guys. And if he emerges as a potential defensive contributor during the preseason, as well as on special teams, he might be able to secure a roster spot.
Bronson and Jefferson will be battling for a spot on Chicago’s practice squad this season. Of the two, pay close attention to Jefferson, a cornerback-turned-safety who started 25 games the past two years at UCLA. He’s solid in coverage, although he lacks ideal NFL speed. If he proves himself on special teams, he might be able to lock down one of the final roster spots.
- Camp Preview: Cornerback
- Camp Preview: Inside Linebacker
- Camp Preview: Outside Linebacker
- Camp Preview: Defensive Line
- Camp Battle: Mundy vs. Vereen
- Camp Preview: Offensive Line
- Camp Battle: Ball vs. McManis
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fifth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.