Off-season analysis- Secondary

The Bears only produced nine interceptions as a team in 2002, which was tied for the fewest in the NFL. Injuries had a lot to do with the lack of production, but there were other factors involved.

The biggest decision regarding the secondary will revolve around the strong safety position. Mike Green, who is a restricted free agent, performed well as a nickel and dime back in his seasons leading up to last year. He was handed Tony Parrish's starting position at strong safety going into last training camp, and struggled. All things considered, he didn't get a lot of help. Despite being in a new position, he was forced into playing the entire preseason at free safety thanks to a hand injury to Mike Brown and a coaching staff eager to see what rookie Bobby Gray might contribute at strong safety.

Additionally, he was put in more coverage situations than a strong safety might normally be involved in, since R.W. McQuarters was either playing hurt or out most of the season. Todd McMillon and Reggie Austin were liabilities in coverage, prior to being lost for the season with injuries of their own. This meant Green was not able to be as big a force on the run, and the Bears needed a presence back there for this, with injuries decimating the defensive line. Green's play improved steadily as the season wore on, and as McQuarters got healthier. He was tendered an offer, so the Bears can have one more year to find out if he can be a difference-maker as a safety.

At worst, Bobby Gray will get an extended look at strong safety. Since Green was an outstanding nickel and dime coverage man before he was thrust into the safety role, a return to his former position would not be a bad thing, considering he is not earning starter pay as of yet. While Green's play was clearly a disappointment, it would be too soon to declare him a failure and give up on him.

A player who may be given up on is Damon Moore. Moore was a low-cost gamble who came to the Bears on the heels of major knee surgery. He was rumored to have been close to retirement, and the Bears held out hope he would return to the team. He did, but committed his second known violation of the league substance abuse policy. This backsliding overshadowed his successful return to the playing field late in the season. He faces a ruling and likely sanction from the league, and could get released despite his low salary cap number.

Special teams ace and depth player Larry Whigham is an unrestricted free agent. He's a valuable player on special teams, but doesn't look as if he'll be asked to return.

Mike Brown had his share of bumps and bruises, but played the entire season. He was solid, and turned in some big plays early in the year when the season was still on the line. He has quickly and quietly become a leader on defense. Efforts to tie him to a long-term contract will likely begin well in advance of when he becomes a free agent.

Jerry Azumah stepped into a starting role at cornerback last season after making a successful conversion from collegiate running back. All in all, he had a good season. He rarely got beaten deep, and proved to be one of the more sure tacklers on the team. He's going to need to continue improving. Increasing his number of interceptions from the zero he tallied last year would be a start. Now that he understands his assignments, he should be comfortable enough to take more chances. An improved effort from a healthy front 7 should add to this as well.

R.W. McQuarters had a very disappointing season. On the heels of a near Pro Bowl effort in 2001, he injured his knee early, and was never the same for the balance of the year. His performance has some wondering whether or not his 2001 season was a mirage. Expect McQuarters to bounce back to his 2001 form. There are no mirages at cornerback. At his position, there is no place to hide-good or bad.

Reserve cornerbacks Reggie Austin and Todd McMillon are both restricted free agents that suffered season-ending injuries. Austin's injury was serious enough to make his readiness to begin the 2003 season a question mark and isn't expected to return. McMillon was extended a one-year offer. With rookie Roosevelt Williams showing some positive signs at the end of the season, McMillon could have a difficult time making the roster.

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