No Help on the Way

Bourbonnais - The Bears will be without Jerry Azumah for three to four weeks following a scope on his hip. Rather than acquiring veteran help, the team will likely give a group of untested cornerbacks a chance to develop in the preseason.

The procedure to clear up damaged tissue was deemed a success by head coach Lovie Smith. Azumah's absence will give the Bears a chance to take an extended look at what Rashied Davis and Jerrell Pippens have to offer.

"It's a great opportunity," Smith said. "Even before Jerry had his injury we liked both players coming out of OTA practices and they haven't disappointed us. Both continue to get better each day."

There are veteran cornerbacks still available, including Ty Law, Aaron Beasley and Bobby Taylor. Following practice on Wednesday, GM Jerry Angelo shot down the idea of pursuing outside help at cornerback.

"No. I doubt it and the reason why is that we're not going to find anybody that we feel at this point in the year is going to crack into the top three," Angelo said. " So, we like our young corners and hopefully we're going to see them continue to progress."

The current timeframe means Azumah will likely miss at least four preseason games and possibly all five. At this point, getting him ready for the Sept. 11 season opener at Washington is the top priority.

"As we told Jerry, we'll hold down the fort until you get here," Smith said.

In the meantime, Nathan Vasher assumes the starting job opposite Charles Tillman with Davis and Pippens to receive additional playing time.

As a rookie, Vasher led the Bears with five interceptions and his progress made the team feel comfortable with their decision to release R.W. McQuarters in May.

Pippens, who the Bears claimed of waivers in Week 15 of 2004, has been a safety for his entire career. His only experience at cornerback has come in practices with the Chargers as a rookie and over the last week with the Bears. As undrafted free agent out of Nebraska, he appeared in nine games between Chicago and San Diego, primarily on special teams. At 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, he has good size but will have to adjust to the position.

"At safety when you're dropping back and reading cover 2 it's kind of a slow read," Pippens said. "When you're doing Cover 2 at corner and a guy is coming at you 100 MPH you've got to move your feet so quickness and suddenness are the big difference."

Unlike Pippens, Davis has never played a down in the NFL. He spent the past four years in the Arena League, but didn't play cornerback this past season. At 5-foot-9, 180 pounds speed is an asset, as are his hands. He caught 100 balls for 1,420 yards and 30 touchdowns as an offensive specialist with the San Jose Saber Cats.

"They're talented young men, but they don't have experience and that's the thing that you battle as a coach," said defensive backs coach Perry Fewell of Davis and Pippens. "They don't have the game experience that you would like for to have, but they have the athleticism and they have the desire."

There is some debate whether Azumah will handle kick return duties upon his return. He earned Pro Bowl honors in the role in 2003, but putting him at risk for additional punishment is something the Bears may try to avoid.

The Bears weren't planning on using Azumah on kickoffs during the preseason and will now look at several candidates to handle the responsibility.

Davis will get a chance, as will Vasher, while Bernard Berrian would be the frontrunner unless he wins a starting receiver job.


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