Coach Lovie Smith told everyone who would listen in February at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis that the Bears have to "invest" at safety, highlighting that his safeties combined for just one interception in 2009.
However, despite the obvious need at safety, and free safety in particular since the roster is already flooded with strong safety-types, a convincing case can be made that cornerback is almost as big a priority before the 2010 campaign. Charles Tillman and Zack Bowman are currently atop the depth chart at left and right corner, respectively, but Tillman has been banged up constantly in recent seasons because of his physical style of play, and Bowman has a lengthy history of injury himself dating back to his days in college. Should either one of them go down for any extended period of time, the coaching staff doesn't appear to have confidence in Corey Graham, D.J. Moore or newcomer Tim Jennings to step in and be an every-snap option.
If the Bears weren't in desperate need of better backups behind Tillman and Bowman, then they wouldn't have jettisoned former Pro Bowler Nathan Vasher this offseason, as he was likely to get the first call off the bench.
According to research compiled by BearReport.com, the Monsters of the Midway have shown the most amount of interest in these four corner prospects leading up to this month's NFL Draft:
"Even though Owusu-Ansah is listed as a cornerback, in college he basically served as the team's free safety. At IUP, the defensive structure calls for a lot of two-deep coverage where Owusu-Ansah played field corner, which requires him to function as a free safety. But at IUP, the linebackers and safeties amassed most of the tackles. That's why Owusu-Ansah, who was the last line of defense, didn't record many tackles during his career. He had 14 tackles in 2008 and 27 this past year. Owusu-Ansah is a physical player and will be a dynamic player at the next level. Don't let his lack of tackles alter your view of him as a prospect."
– Chris Steuber, Scout.com
"Lindley became a model of consistency at Kentucky, establishing himself as one of the best cover corners in the Southeastern Conference.
He had 39 career starts entering his senior campaign. Lindley considered leaving school early for the NFL and was even encouraged to do so by coach Rich Brooks. Lindley received a mid-second round grade by the NFL Advisory Committee. After banging up his shoulder against East Carolina in the Liberty Bowl, however, Lindley elected to rehabilitate the injury properly rather than rush it to prepare for NFL workouts. But Lindley went down with an ankle injury early in the 2009 season. After missing four games, Lindley battled back and played his best football late in the season. Though not recognized by the media on even the honorable mention all-conference team, SEC coaches knew the impact he had on the field (32 tackles, nine passes broken up, one INT) and awarded him first-team all-conference accolades. Lindley's lack of size and durability concerns the past two seasons will scare off some teams. And despite his SEC-record 43 passes broken up in 48 career starts, a poor performance at the Senior Bowl and average straight-line speed will likely push him out of the top 100 selections."
– Rob Rang, NFLDraftScout.com
"Despite his lanky appearance, Murphy is one of the biggest hitters in this year's cornerback class. He is especially willing and impressive in run support. Last season, he had a career-high 77 tackles along with a team-leading four INTs and seven pass breakups. He had 67 tackles and a pair of pickoffs in 2008. Although he might fit the need for the bigger cornerbacks that NFL teams seek, it wouldn't be surprising to see Murphy moved to safety, where his abilities to hit and cover will be an asset against the league's pass-happy offenses."
– Frank Cooney, USA Today
"Locates and plays the ball extremely well. Natural hands and will consistently come down with routine interceptions. Flashes ability to come up with circus catch. Aggressive attacking the ball in the air and times jumps well. Can be pushed around in jump-ball situations by bigger and more physical receivers. Active and willing in run support. Doesn't have a lot of ammunition in holster as far as size and strength but won't shy away from throwing his weight around as a tackler. Consistent open-field tackler. Does a good job of keeping eyes up and is effective when going down low to cut out legs against bigger backs. Wades through trash well. Gives good effort fighting through blocks but can be controlled by bigger receivers at times."
– Todd McShay, ESPN.com
Conclusion: Reminding some of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who was selected 16th overall out of Tennessee State two years ago by the Cardinals, Owusu-Ansah is just a playmaker and needs to be given a chance to grow at the NFL level.
Bears fans can't help but be nervous when it comes to another small-school defensive back oozing with physical tools, as Danieal Manning is still more athlete than football player four years into his Chicago career, but Owusu-Ansah has been shooting up draft boards and may be gone by the time general manager Jerry Angelo is on the clock at 75th overall in Round 3. Even if he has no chance to compete with Tillman and Bowman right away at corner, the dearth of talent available on the roster at free safety would warrant a look for Owusu-Ansah right away. Murphy and Spievey are similarly versatile players with a broad range of tangible skills, but in terms of pure upside, Owusu-Ansah could be a star.
Because the Bears need help at both corner and safety, perhaps one of these hybrid DBs is the way to go in Round 3 or 4, as opposed to a classic corner like Lindley.
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John Crist is the Publisher of BearReport.com, a Heisman Trophy voter 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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