Not many football fans had ever heard of Danieal Manning when the Bears took him in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft out of tiny Abilene Christian, but he quickly established himself as arguably the best pure athlete on the team.
However, the Monsters of the Midway have not been able to harness all that natural ability, as Manning spent time at both safety and cornerback his first two seasons in the league with hit-and-miss success. While he started to make his presence felt when inserted into the nickel back role this past year, his value spiked to an all-time high when he took over for an ineffective Devin Hester on the kickoff-return team – he ended up leading the league with a 29.7-yard average. Manning was asked to play free safety one last time after Mike Brown was moved to injured reserve before the 2008 finale, but he seemed out of place yet again and gave up an unchallenged touchdown reception to Houston's Andre Johnson in defeat.
General manager Jerry Angelo gave a thumbs-up to second-year pro Craig Steltz when asked about replacing the departed Brown, so look for the former LSU Tiger to open next week's veteran minicamp atop the depth chart.
With regard to strategy for the upcoming NFL Draft, the Bears didn't bother to send a representative Tuesday to Western Michigan's Pro Day in Kalamazoo, but they did send a scout Wednesday to Kentucky's Pro Day in Lexington.
Therefore, it's reasonable to assume that WMU's Louis Delmas – a late first- or early second-round prospect – is probably off the team's radar, while UK's Marcus McClinton – a sixth-rounder at best – could be in Chicago's crosshairs.
McClinton (6-0, 208) is considered by many to be a boom-or-bust proposition, as he clearly has the talent necessary to play on Sundays but has battled injury problems and character issues. He runs well, shows good instincts in coverage, and packs a punch as a sure tackler, plus he made his share of big plays for the Wildcats. On the down side, he's never gotten the most out of his ability, has missed a lot of time with various injuries, and was suspended in 2007 after pleading guilty to second-degree disorderly conduct.
With big holes to plug at offensive tackle and wide receiver, perhaps safety has been pushed down the list of draft-weekend priorities – especially if Delmas is no longer being considered by Angelo.
McClinton is the only Wildcat considered worthy of a draft choice next month, so there is every reason to believe the Bears attended Kentucky's Pro Day specifically to see him in action.
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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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