Position Preview: Defensive Backs

The Chicago Bears started out with what they thought was a special secondary this past season, but injuries and ineffectiveness simply tore it apart. While the cornerbacks appear to be set, what's in store at safety? Bear Report takes a look back at 2007 and previews 2008 for the defensive backs.

2007 review: The Bears did not do a very good job defending the pass this past season, allowing 231.8 yards per game through the air (27th in the league), a completion percentage of 63.4 (26th), and only four teams gave up more passing plays of 40 yards or longer (nine).

At the cornerback position, Charles Tillman was once again pretty steady with 67 tackles and three interceptions, but Nathan Vasher was only able to play once after Week 3 because of a nasty groin injury suffered against Dallas. Ricky Manning Jr. wasn't nearly as effective in `07 as he was in `06 in the nickel package, although seventh-round rookie Trumaine McBride played very well and emerged as the top reserve corner by Week 7. Over at safety, Mike Brown finished the schedule on injured reserve for the third time in the last four years, this time tearing an ACL in Week 1 at San Diego. Adam Archuleta came to Chicago looking to resurrect his career after a hellacious debut with the Redskins, but he was nothing short of terrible again and got benched for good in Week 13. Both Brandon McGowan and Danieal Manning had some highs and lows, and it remains to be seen if either is truly starting caliber in the NFL.

The defensive backs – armed with tons of talent and loads of experience – were supposed to be a strength on this team, but a potent cocktail of injuries and effectiveness ripped them to shreds.

On the rise: Not much thought was given to McBride on Day 2 of last year's draft, especially since another cornerback, fifth-rounder Corey Graham, was already on his way to Chicago. Yet it was McBride who instantly looked like the better player once the rookies got to Halas Hall for minicamp in May, and he continued to be a pleasant surprise throughout the regular season. Manning Jr. has proven that he is not reliable even as a fill-in starter and owns an unfavorable contract, so the presence of McBride makes him expendable this offseason.

Free falling: Brown is one of the captains of this team and truly a special player when he's operating at full capacity, but it's simply impossible to ignore his lengthy list of injuries. The former Pro Bowler has missed 43 of his last 64 regular-season games due to leg ailments, all seemingly unrelated yet all relatively severe. He looked as good as ever for three quarters on opening weekend and even got the defense's first interception of the year, but GM Jerry Angelo said in his season-ending press conference that he just can't count on Brown any longer.

S Mike Brown
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Free agency/NFL Draft: Since Brown is again a question mark and Archuleta will likely be pink-slipped very soon, both safety position needs to be addressed right away. If Angelo can't sign a top free agent like Ken Hamlin of the Cowboys, it's possible he'll target Kenny Phillips of Miami with the 14th selection in April's draft. The secondary appears to be in pretty good shape at corner, assuming Vasher's groin problems go away and both McBride and Graham continue to get better as second-stringers.

2008 preview: Lovie Smith's Cover-2 scheme simply does not work unless he gets excellent play from his safeties, making those two positions the top priorities on this defense right now – even with promising rookie Kevin Payne coming back from a broken arm. Bears fans might just have to accept the fact that Brown will never again resemble the durable player he was earlier in his career, although there is still hope for Manning since he won't be switching back and forth between safety and cornerback like he was a year ago. Tillman and Vasher are one of the better corner combos in the league when they suit up together, but the defensive backfield could once again be in trouble if one of them is shelved for any significant period of time.

John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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