The Bears curiously decided not to attend the Pro Day for Western Michigan safety Louis Delmas earlier this week, even though he's rated as one of the top prospects available at his position in the NFL Draft, and now we understand why.
Chicago signed former Saint Josh Bullocks just a day later, lending credence to the argument that general manager Jerry Angelo was no longer considering safeties on Day 1 of the draft and planned to plug other holes. A former second-round pick out of Nebraska, just like the one-time Pro Bowler he may replace in the starting lineup, Mike Brown, Bullocks is an elite athlete who appears to possess a fair amount of untapped potential. Lovie Smith's version of the Cover-2 defense mandates excellent play from each safety spot, something that has been a problem in recent seasons due to both injury and ineffectiveness.
In order to get an insider's perspective on Bullocks and what he may ultimately bring to the table as a Monster of the Midway, Bear Report consulted with Doug Farrar, who covers the NFC West for FootballOutsiders.com.
Strengths: Bullocks is fairly smooth in his backpedal and doesn't seem to get turned around a lot. He's decent with reads but appears cautious – maybe in the wrong place – at times. He played a lot of center field in Cover-2 looks or Cover-1 with a box safety, but he could still make good tackles.
Weaknesses: His closing speed in space is average at best, though that may be a product of playing deep at times with some pretty bad man-to-man cornerbacks. He's not particularly impressive in tight seam or slant coverage one-on-one. He' more of a rover, though that again may be part of the system. Bullocks isn't entirely consistent with his on-point direction when coming up to help with the run.
Farrar Says: Honestly, if the Bears play as much straight Cover 2 as I think they do, they'll have a solid fit in Bullocks. In a base 4-3 defense with an extra safety aligned, he's a quality complementary player with intermediate to long routes. Most of his starts in 2008 – he played all 16 games, starting five, mostly replacing Kevin Kaesviharn – came with starting cornerbacks Mike McKenzie and Tracy Porter out of the lineup. The Saints play a lot of different man or man/zone-type hybrids, and I don't think that does Bullocks a lot of good. He's not a side-to-side speedster. He is a cog, not a superstar, but he's a nice fit in the right system, which he may have more in Chicago than he ever did in new Orleans.
JC's Take: While the Bears didn't run nearly as much Cover 2 as usual this past season and went with a lot of the more conservative Cover 3, the addition of Bullocks gives Smith and Co. yet another excuse to get back to their base approach.
Safeties are rarely taken in the first round of any draft unless they're can't-miss studs like Ed Reed or Troy Polamalu, so the fact that Bullocks was originally selected in Round 2 just four years ago suggests he's got a lot of ability in him somewhere. Last year's fourth-rounder, Craig Steltz, will likely be atop the depth chart when the team holds its three-day veteran minicamp next week at Halas Hall, but Smith looks for athletes on defense and will have a hard time keeping Bullocks on the sideline. Many scouts feel Steltz is better off at strong safety since he doesn't have the speed to run with NFL-caliber wideouts downfield, although Kevin Payne has that starting job all to himself.
It sounds as if the Bears could have an All-Pro free safety in the secondary if they simply combined Bullocks and Steltz into one player, as Bullocks is physically gifted but not incredibly instinctual – vice versa for Steltz.
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Insider Analysis: S Josh Bullocks
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