Saying "sayonara" to Brown made sense because the former Pro Bowler had missed 44 of 80 regular season contests from 2004-08 with various lower-leg injuries, but the Midway Monsters deserve to be criticized for not having an exit strategy in place – granted, replacing a borderline irreplaceable presence like Brown isn't an easy task. Instead, fans were subjected to a never-ending game of musical chairs at both the strong and free safety positions, with Danieal Manning asked to alternate between free safety and nickel back based on the offense's personnel for a while. Without a pure free safety capable of taking away the deep middle with eight defenders in the box, strong safety-types like Kevin Payne, Craig Steltz and rookie Al Afalava were exposed when away from the line of scrimmage.
Once coach Lovie Smith announced right before training camp that Steltz had been removed as the starter at free safety in favor of Manning, this after Steltz spent all of the offseason atop the depth chart, red flags shot up everywhere.
Inside the Numbers
If both Afalava and Payne stick at strong safety and don't get jerked around anymore, perhaps one of them will emerge and develop into a Chris Harris-type player – Angelo wouldn't mind having him back right about now. As far as free safety is concerned, there isn't anyone on the roster capable of getting the job done because it's such a critical role in the Cover 2. From the group consisting of Afalava, Payne, Steltz and Bullocks, not one of them has the coverage skills to play the position, and even though Manning does, he makes too many mental mistakes to be trusted as the last line of defense in today's pass-happy NFL.
If the coaching staff still refuses to give Charles Tillman a look at free safety, Angelo will be in a tough spot because the top six free agents on the market are all restricted – he doesn't have the draft picks required to go get an Oshiomogho Atogwe or an Antoine Bethea.
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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.
2009 Position by Position Review: S
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