Depth makes secondary a strength

The Bears will have a tough time cutting their defensive backfield to a projected nine players this year, which is better then not having enough talent already on the roster.

"I'm so happy I'm not Jerry Angelo because he has to make those decisions," said secondary coach Vance Bedford, who was retained by Lovie Smith from the previous coach staff. "But you know what it's a good problem to have."

The biggest battle comes between R.W. McQuarters and Jerry Azumah, who made the Pro Bowl as a kick returner in 2003.

"He's a big part of what we're doing in the return game, of course, a long with playing the defensive backfield position," Smith said of Azumah.

Azumah had been working with the first team defense until suffering a stinger in his right shoulder last week. While Azumah got a second opinion, the injury isn't considered serious, but the Bears will not rush him back.

"When we send him out there he'll be able to take a lick and that's why we're taking our time and making sure," Smith said. "Jerry isn't a guy that has to prove that he can play. We know what he can do, so we'll take every precaution we can with him."

The additional reps give McQuarters a chance to impress his coaches.

"You definitely want to go out here and make sure you have a good showing for the staff so you can stay here," McQuarters said.

A 16-game starter in 2001, McQuarters has only started 15 games over the past two seasons, due to injury and inconsistent play. After being demoted from his starting role last year, McQuarters seemed to turn his season around as the nickel back. The fact that he had success a punt returner also gave him renewed confidence.

During the off-season McQuarters, like most of his teammates, lost weight, shedding 12 pounds.

"Anytime you lose a couple of pounds (you can tell the difference)," McQuarters said. "Most of these guys are fined tuned and you know when you gain a couple of pounds versus losing a couple of pounds."

No matter who wins the starting job both McQuarters and Azumah will play major roles in the defense.

"Every year you'll have a couple guys fighting for the position, this year it's Azumah and myself," McQuarters said. "It's just one of things where go out and keep your mind on football and learn from your mistakes, work on your technique and make sure you try to make every play."

The strong safety position is also up for grabs. Mike Green is currently ahead of Bobby Gray, but that could change over the next month. Todd Johnson has also been working into the rotation and could bring the best combination of hands and physical play.

"If you're in camp right now you have a chance and you're going to get opportunities and if you perform better then the other guy you'll get a chance to play," Smith said.

Mike Brown and Charles Tillman are not only locks to be in the starting lineup, but both have Pro Bowl aspirations. With McQuarters, Azumah, Green, Gray and Johnson projected to make the club that leaves two spots open.

Fourth-round pick Nathan Vasher is an obvious choice to claim one of them because he can return kickoffs and could develop into a solid cover cornerback.

That leaves Todd McMillon, Brock Williams Alfonso Marshall and Cameron Worrell among the candidates competing for the final spot.

McMillon, a five-year veteran, is the favorite to claim the roster spot because of his contributions on special teams.

Worrell made the team as undrafted free agent a year ago and played well. However there simply isn't enough room to keep five safeties on the roster and Johnson is more talented then Worrell.

Marshall is a candidate for the practice squad, which has been expanded from five to eight this year.

There is a chance the Bears could start the season with ten defensive backs, but that's unlikely because there will be roster crunches at other positions.

"We have a better idea now where we are, but all we've done right now is get ourselves in position to start competing against someone else," Smith said. "Then things we really start to clear up."


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