The Chicago Bears finished 4th in the NFL last season in pass defense, yet most consider the secondary to be the weakest link on this year's roster.
That's due in large part to sketchy individual performances from the cornerback unit, which belied that quality overall rank. As a result, concerns about the cornerback position - both the projected starters and the depth - pervade the roster heading into training camp.
Yet there are reasons for hope about a positional group that could exceed expectations in 2016.
With that in mind, let's break down each of the cornerbacks the Bears will bring to training camp beginning next week.
The concerns at cornerback start at the top, where former first rounder Kyle Fuller has been maddeningly inconsistent his first two years in the league. After a strong start to his rookie season in 2014, Fuller took a dramatic step backward in the second half of the year and that carried over to 2015.
Fuller created seven turnovers as a rookie - 4 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles - but that number fell to just 2 interceptions last year, while his total tackles dropped from 64 to 55.
It was clear last year Fuller's difficulty in adjusting to coordinator Vic Fangio's man-heavy defense. Remember, Fuller was drafted for his potential in a zone-heavy system, where he can scan the field and break on plays in front of him, which is his strength. In man-to-man sets everything changes, as he struggles mightily to find the ball once he turns his back to the line of scrimmage.
Teaching Fuller to be effective in man coverage has been a slow process but he did improve in the second half last season. According to Pro Football Focus, Fuller had a mid-year stretch in which he led all NFL cornerbacks in opposing QB rating against.
Despite that improvement, Fuller still has yet to play like a first-round draft pick over an extended period of time. Defensive backs coach Ed Donatell has made strides with Fuller but there's still work left to do for a player who gave up five touchdowns in 2015.
The Bears need Fuller to play like a No. 1 lockdown cornerback. If he comes anywhere near that level of productivity this year, that would alleviate most of the concerns about Chicago's boundary corners.
Tracy Porter was a journeyman free agent last off-season who received very little attention on the open market. The Bears eventually signed him to a one-year deal on June 8 and he promptly got hurt at the start of training camp, which limited him throughout the preseason.
Yet Porter showed enough to make the final 53-man roster and earned the starting gig opposite Fuller by Week 4. He would go on to start the next 13 contests, showing far more consistency than Fuller.
Porter was very productive early in the season but hit a few rough patches down the stretch. He led the team in pass breakups (12) but also in touchdowns allowed (7) and opposing QB rating against (107.2).
In lieu of pursuing big-money cornerbacks in free agency, the Bears instead chose to re-sign Porter to a three-year deal worth $4.25 million in 2016. The 5-11 corner turns 30 in less than a month.
The Bears are banking on the eight-year veteran, which is risky. Porter is on the downslope of an injury-filled career and had some very poor outings late last season. He could easily regress into the player who has bounced between four different teams the past four years.
With Fuller and Porter, it's easy to see them taking substantial steps in either direction and their production could fluctuate from week to week. It's hard to foresee consistency from this duo. In fact, Chicago's coaching staff would probably be happy if these two were just serviceable, which might be the best we can expect from Fuller and Porter.
A 2015 undrafted free agent out of Rice, Callahan broke camp on the active roster. He was sent to the practice squad in Week 3 but re-activated in Week 7, when he assumed the starting nickelback role.
Callahan played 329 snaps his rookie year and was quietly effective in the slot. He did not allow a single touchdown and his 79.0 QB rating against led the team. He finished the year with 21 total tackles, 1.0 sack and 4 pass breakups.
In OTAs and minicamp, Callahan resumed his role as the club's starting nickelback, where he'll stay heading into training camp.
At 5-11, 180, Callahan has slot corner size and quickness, and now has a year of NFL experience under his belt. He's not a household name but Callahan was a good fit at nickel for the Bears last year. If he takes another step forward, he'll break camp this year as a starter.
Additionally, Callahan took reps at boundary corner during veteran minicamp, with Fuller on the sidelines with an undisclosed injury. Clearly, Fangio and Donatell see Callahan as a viable option at multiple cornerback positions.
The Bears spent a fourth-round pick on Deiondre' Hall out of Northern Iowa. He's a versatile defender who played safety, corner and rover linebacker during his collegiate career.
At 6-3, 199, Hall has elite NFL size for a cornerback, yet his most impressive physical asset is his arm length, which measures out to a staggering 34 3/8 inches. His combination of height and length is rare, which has many comparing him to a young Charles Tillman.
Yet Hall is a bit of a project, one who struggled at times during OTAs and minicamp. He had trouble mirroring quicker receivers and he lacked anticipation on balls thrown his way.
Hall did make a couple of plays that utilized his arm length, showing off his potential as a press-cover corner who can match up with the big wideouts of today's NFL, but he might not be ready to start right away.
Entering camp, Hall is in the mix for the club's primary backup spot at both boundary positions but he still has a lot of room for improvement. How much he develops over the next few months will dictate his playing time early in the regular season.
A 2015 undrafted free agent out of Central Florida, Glenn broke camp last year on Chicago's practice squad, where he stayed before being elevated to the 53-man roster in Week 10. He was active for just one game the remainder of the year.
Glenn (6-0, 180) was the AAC's Co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2014, a season in which he led the conference with 7 interceptions. He took second-team reps during OTAs and minicamp, and even took a handful of snaps with the first team.
Glenn is one of the frontrunners for one of the final CB spots on this year's roster.
McManis entered the 2015 regular season as Chicago's starting nickelback but he struggled mightily. He played just 302 snaps, allowing 5 TDs and a 147.6 QB rating against.
He was benched by Week 7, resuming his role as a core player on special teams. McManis led all Bears last year with 17 special teams tackles, which was seven more than any of his teammates.
The Bears re-signed McManis to a two-year contract this off-season due to his value in the third phase. It's doubtful he'll see much of the field on defense this year but he'll once again be a vital piece of the special teams units, making him a borderline lock to make the 53-man roster.
An undrafted rookie out Oklahoma State, Peterson was impressive during rookie minicamp, making a number of defensive plays out of the slot.
At 5-11, 190, Peterson has good size to play inside. He has demonstrated solid playmaking ability and enters camp with an opportunity to compete with Callahan for the starting nickelback spot.
Peterson is quick and confident. If that carries over to training camp, he'll be one of the favorites among this year's crop of UDFAs to break camp on the 53-man roster. If not, he should be a lock for the practice squad.
A 2015 undrafted free agent, Bausby was signed to Chicago's practice squad in December last year. At 6-2, 190, he has very good size.
Bausby worked with the third team this off-season and will battle in camp for a spot on the practice squad.
A UDFA out of Mississippi State, Calhoun is a high-character player with decent size (6-0, 192). His biggest knock is a lack of speed (4.58 40-yard dash).
Like Bausby, Calhoun will fight for a place on the Bears' practice squad.null