Instant Analysis: Shakeup at Safety

Major Wright and Chris Harris are in, Kevin Payne is already out. The Chicago Bears have shaken up the safeties. So what does it mean for Al Afalava, Josh Bullocks, Danieal Manning and Craig Steltz?

Al Afalava

Surprisingly developing into a starter as a sixth-round draft pick last season, Afalava played in 13 games and recorded 53 tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble and seven passes defensed. But while he quickly turned into one of the coaching staff's darlings with his smooth adaptation to the system and quiet demeanor on the field, the former Oregon State Beaver was at times grossly miscast as a free safety and didn't make many plays away from the line of scrimmage – zero interceptions as a rookie. Now comes word that he is suffering from nerve damage in his shoulder that threatens to linger into the 2010 campaign, which likely made Tuesday's trade for once and future Bear Chris Harris all the more necessary.

Status Update: We'll learn just how hurt he is when veteran minicamp convenes next month at Halas Hall, but as of right now Afalava looks like nothing more than a backup to Harris at strong safety.

Josh Bullocks

Signed as an unrestricted free agent from New Orleans this past offseason and then tendered a contract as a restricted free agent this offseason, Bullocks played in 12 games and was credited with 23 tackles. There were some talent evaluators around the league that believed he would benefit from a change of scenery after playing behind some terrible corners with the Saints, but the former Nebraska Cornhusker was a game-day inactive in Week 1 and buried on the depth chart behind the likes of Afalava and the now traded-away Kevin Payne – he finally cracked the starting lineup down the stretch once injuries began to pile up in the secondary. Another in a long line of Bears safeties more comfortable down in the box than out in space, Bullocks signed his tender offer and will earn a guaranteed $1.226 million in 2010.

S Josh Bullocks
Getty Images: Jonathan Daniel

Status Update: Unlike Afalava, Bullocks can fill in at both strong and free safety, although he hasn't proven to be an ideal fit at either and probably won't challenge for a starting job.

Danieal Manning

Switching back and forth between free safety and nickel back, Manning played in 15 games and had 92 tackles, a sack, an interception, two forced fumbles, two passes defensed and a safety. An annual disappointment because he is oozing with physical tools and works as had as anyone in practice, the former Abilene Christian Wildcat was only handed an original-round tender offer by the front office and his calls to sign a long-term contract have gone unanswered. There was chatter during the offseason that he would make another move from free to strong safety in order to take advantage of his in-the-box prowess – or perhaps keep him from making more mistakes in coverage – but the Harris deal may have canceled that idea.

Status Update: Manning might have to settle for nickel back and kick returner, and he's still going to have to hold off free-agent acquisition Tim Jennings and Pro Bowler Johnny Knox, respectively, for those duties.

Craig Steltz

Still a favorite of general manager Jerry Angelo since he was a fourth rounder just two years ago, Steltz played in 12 games and was credited with 11 tackles and one pass defensed. Starting alongside Bullocks the last few weeks, the former LSU Tiger helped the Bears close out the schedule with back-to-back victories and totaled a career-high five tackles in a Week-16 upset of the Vikings at Soldier Field. Although he began voluntary workouts as the No. 1 free safety, Angelo's selection of Florida's Major Wright with his top pick in this month's draft was a clear sign that Steltz hasn't done enough to be an unquestioned starter yet.

Status Update: While Steltz may make it to training camp as the starter at free safety because he's a veteran, look for the more explosive – and more vocal – Wright to overtake him before too long and get the nod come Week 1.

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John Crist is the Publisher of, a Heisman Trophy voter 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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