Camp Battles to Watch: Defense

We are still a way's away from Bourbonnais for the start of training camp, but the Chicago Bears can begin assembling the depth chart at this weekend's veteran minicamp. Defensively, there are battles yet to be won at right end, strong safety, and nickel corner. How will it all shake out at Halas Hall?

Defensive End

The skinny:
Adewale Ogunleye had perhaps his best season in a Bears uniform at left defensive end, but there were issues over on the right side in Mark Anderson's first season as the starter. The former fifth-round steal wasn't able to duplicate the success he enjoyed as a rookie pass-rushing specialist in 2006, adding fuel to the fire that veteran Alex Brown never should have lost his job in the first place.

The favorite: Anderson probably enters this weekend's minicamp as the favorite for no other reason than the fact that he was the starter a year ago, as this organization is not one to admit its mistakes very often. We all know Anderson can get after the quarterback, but he is not very adept at holding the point of attack off the edge and can be exploited in the running game because of his over-aggressiveness rushing the passer.

DE Alex Brown
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The dark horse: Brown was not a happy camper a year ago in Bourbonnais because of his demotion, but he still played well this past season and did start the final two games after Anderson was moved to the injured reserve list. While he's not some kind of heat-seeking missile who's going to rack up 12-14 sacks, he will provide adequate pressure opposite Ogunleye and is light years better than Anderson defending the run at this point.

The prediction: While head coach Lovie Smith prefers to rush the passer with his front four as opposed to blitzing frequently, teams were specifically targeting Anderson on the ground and racked up big chunks of yardage running left all season long. Brown deserves to be No. 1 again on the right side, which would allow Anderson to do what he does best in obvious passing situations: Pin his ears back and tear after the enemy QB.

Strong Safety

The skinny:
Smith was positive he could make Adam Archuleta a great player once again simply by getting him out of Washington and back into the Cover-2 scheme the former Ram was familiar with in St. Louis. But Smith couldn't have been more wrong, as Archuleta was repeatedly picked on in the passing game, finally benched in Week 13, and mercifully released earlier this month.

The favorite: It was Brandon McGowan who took over for Archuleta and started the last five games at strong safety, and he played well enough to be given the nod at the beginning of OTAs. Since Mike Brown is atop the depth chart once again at free safety after recently restructuring the final year – this year – of his deal, Chicago is hoping McGowan continues to get better at strong so Brown can possibly stay out of harm's way at free.

S Brandon McGowan
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The dark horse: The front office constantly raved about Kevin Payne after taking him in the fifth round of the `07 draft, and he was just starting to work his way into the defensive rotation before breaking his arm in Week 4 and finishing his rookie year on IR. Although he lacks McGowan's game experience in the secondary, Payne has the size to be a punishing force near the line of scrimmage and the speed to run with pass-catchers in coverage down the field.

The prediction: The coaching staff would love to see Payne take the next step and prove that he's ready to start opposite Brown, but it's a safe bet McGowan will emerge victorious when it's all said and done. While Payne probably has a lot more upside assuming he realizes his full potential, McGowan is better prepared to play right now – plus Payne was originally a running back in college and still has a lot to learn.


The skinny:
Ricky Manning Jr. proved two things in his first year as a Bear during the Super Bowl run of 2006: He was good as the third cornerback in the nickel package and not so good when needed to replace either Charles Tillman or Nathan Vasher in the starting lineup. But then last season Manning wasn't nearly as effective, forcing defensive coordinator Bob Babich to keep strong-side linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer on the field in passing situations more than ever.

The favorite: Look for a Manning to be the nickel defender again, although chances are it will be safety Danieal Manning and not the aforementioned Ricky Manning Jr. Danieal Manning is arguably the best athlete on the roster but still hasn't found a true home in the NFL, but he has been getting a lot of action covering slot receivers during the offseason program at Halas Hall and could win the job.

DB Danieal Manning
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The dark horse: Not that the Bears were very good on defense statistically in 2007, but they could have been much worse if not for the emergence of unheralded rookie Trumaine McBride. The seventh-round draft pick started eight games at right corner after Vasher went down in Week 3, although the nickel spot is a difficult one to learn in this system.

The prediction: If Danieal Manning proves to be up to the task, then Ricky Manning Jr. can be set free and the team would save close to $2 million in precious salary-cap money. And remember that the Bears are loyal to a fault when it comes to general manager Jerry Angelo's draft choices, so the former second-rounder will most likely be given every opportunity to succeed.

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

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