It is now under two weeks until the Chicago Bears report to 2016 Training Camp in Bourbonnais. It’s been a busy off-season, with sizable roster turnover for the second straight year.
Since the end of the Lovie-Smith era, the Bears have struggled to field a respectable defense despite large amounts of money spent on that side of the ball. Last year under defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, the unit finally took a positive step in the right direction.
While GM Ryan Pace spent a combined $23 million in guaranteed money on defensive free agents, he chose not to make large financial commitments at safety, which continues to be one of the team’s more questionable positions. He did, however, spend two draft picks on safeties, which should create a high level of competition heading into camp.
Will it be enough? The Bears could open the season with five safeties, so having special teams value and versatility may be the difference for players on the bubble.
The club's fifth-round pick last year, Amos started all 16 games his rookie season. Although he did not have an interception, he showed consistency throughout most of the year, particularly as an in-the-box run defender, and appears to be a building block moving forward.
Amos projects as one of the team’s two starters, barring injury, but he will need to take another step forward in order to be an impact player on a defense in need of multiple playmakers in the secondary.
Amos struggled at times defending the deep ball, an area in which he must improve. Yet the Penn State product played cornerback his first few years in college and was known for his playmaking ability, especially in coverage, so the potential is there for him develop as a centerfielder.
The second safety position is still very much an open competition, but if OTAs and mini-camp were any indication, Jones-Quartey will get first crack at the starting gig.
A former undrafted free agent out of the University of Findlay, Jones-Quartey was originally signed by the Arizona Cardinals before being a roster casualty, which allowed the Bears to pick him up before the start of last season.
HJQ is not known for his coverage ability and does not have overwhelming size (5-11, 215) but in limited time last year, he showed flashes of a developmental player with starter potential.
In four starts last year, he had two pass breakups, one interception, a forced fumble and 25 total tackles. He was benched after a poor showing against the Lions in Week 6 - during which Calvin Johnson had his way with HJQ, including a 57-yard catch in overtime that set up Detroit's game-winning field goal - yet he continued to work and earned back the starting role by season's end. His best game came in Week 16 against the Buccaneers when he tallied 4 tackles, 2 pass breakups, 1 interception and 1 forced fumble.
In a more-talented secondary, Jones-Quartey would be best served as a special teams player and the first option off the bench. Yet based on what we saw from him as a rookie, it's clear HJQ has good upside and could be one of the biggest surprises for Chicago's defense this season.
Bush was this year's fourth-round pick but the former Miami Hurricane could very well be the starter alongside Amos at the break of camp.
Going into his senior season, Bush was regarded as one of the top safeties in his class. After a rough and somewhat injury slowed season, he slipped to the end of the fourth round.
Yet Bush has impressed during off-season workouts and has seen his fair share of first team reps, especially while Amos rehabbed from off-season shoulder surgery.
Bush is a stout 6-1, 205 and knows how to lay the wood. He projects better as a strong safety but he did have six pass breakups his senior year and has demonstrated underrated coverage skills on the practice field—which is something the Bears desperately need at the position.
Bush should be the top contender in what projects to be a close battle for the final starting safety spot.
The second of two safeties the Bears drafted, Houston-Carson may have the most upside of any of the team's young safeties.
The 6-1, 190-pound defensive back out of William & Mary was the first player in the school's history to earn first-team All-American honors. He's more of a project than Bush but projects to have better coverage skills and, most of all, outstanding special teams value. He finished his collegiate career with nine blocks, which is remarkable at any level of competition.
Houston-Carson is another versatile piece for Fangio, as he played both cornerback and safety in college. He’s shown to be a tackling machine with playmaking ability but may need more than just one NFL off-season to develop into a starting-caliber safety.
A former John Fox draft pick, Bolden was taken in the fourth round in 2012 out of Arizona State but has never really had an extended shot as a starter. Even when playing for Fox in Denver, Bolden started just one of 56 games played.
He's primarily known for his explosive return ability and brings good special teams value as a whole, especially as a gunner. Bolden has averaged 24.7 yards per kick return during his four-year career and last season averaged 24.6 yards per punt return, which included an 83-yard touchdown.
Bolden is yet another player that has played both cornerback and safety, so he brings versatility on multiple fronts. He's rarely been talked about as a starting option but he has as good a chance as any other safety currently on the roster. Yet even if he can't earn the starting gig, Bolden should be a lock to make the 53-man roster because of what he brings in the third phase.
The former Jacksonville Jaguar is back for his second year with the team but Prosinski will have a much harder time landing a roster spot due to the upgrades in talent.
Prosinski started five games in the second half of last season after Antrel Rolle's injury but struggled while on the field, particularly as an open-field tackler. In those five starts, he totaled 31 tackles, one sack and a forced fumble.
The five-year veteran will need to show his value on special teams, while also upping his game on defense if he expects to crack the final roster.
Hurst has bounced around with the Bears for a couple of years now. Spending time on the practice squad and active roster, he’s never really stuck for an extended amount of time.
At 5-10, he was best used in the slot while Mel Tucker was still the team’s defensive coordinator but has struggled to find a place on an ever-growing roster that continues to add talent.
Hurst is yet another player with versatility at both corner and safety, as well as some special teams value, but must impress during the preseason in order to make it through the first set of cuts.
Although the Bears chose not to invest in big-money safeties in free agency, the team hopes to end the safety carousel that has spun for a decade.
It still looks to be a weak position on paper but with versatility, youth and good upside heading into camp, the safety position as a whole is better off than in years past.
Only time will tell how this competition will play out but it’s become obvious that the Bears front office is relying on stiff competition to bring out the best at the safety position.null