Last season's starters are in line to be replaced due to underwhelming production. The Bears are hoping that moving out Al Afalava and Kevin Payne for Chris Harris and Major Wright will help solidify the weakest aspect of their defense. Wright was drafted in the third round and should be utilized sooner, rather than later. Although throughout offseason workouts, he was getting second-team reps behind the annual disappointment that is Danieal Manning. With Craig Steltz already performing well, Afalava will likely be the odd man out and may not be with the Bears when the season starts. Harris returns after a three-year sabbatical with the Carolina Panthers. Also in the mix – and likely to be in a fight with Afalava for the final spot – is Josh Bullocks. Bullocks went through the least productive season of his career in 2009 and should be primed to prove he still has NFL-quality skills.
Wright and Harris provide a powerful punch from the safety position. Both athletes are skilled at making aggressive, hard-hitting tackles. Each safety has displayed the ability to provide solid run support from the safety spot. Manning runs like a free safety but plays like a strong safety, which is why he had made yet another position switch – Corey Graham is the new nickel back, at least for now – in an effort to salvage his career. Wright and Harris are both listed at an identical 6-0 and 205 pounds. While neither has Adrian Wilson-esque height and weight, they are not undersized by any means. No matter how long it takes Wright to develop, the addition of Harris drastically improves last year's situation.
The Bears currently have an extremely youthful group of players at safety. While this bodes well for the future, it means that rookie mistakes may be plentiful. The current average age for this position is just 25. Without a top-tier veteran to help keep the youngsters in line, Bears faithful will have to prepare for a season with great plays – followed by getting burned. That seems to be Manning's calling card four years into his career. It will be up to coach Lovie Smith and defensive backs coach Jon Hoke to regulate all that youth and ease the learning curve.
S Chris Harris
Eliot J. Schechter/Getty
Wright is a great talent, and as a three-year starter in college, he has more experience than the average rookie. Harris should benefit from a return to familiar turf, and Bullocks can only improve after last season. If Manning performs well down in the box, perhaps he won't be exposed as much in coverage. The Bears have patched together a solid group of safeties, but in a league where teams employ the likes of Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu and Bob Sanders, Chicago's finest are a bit behind the curve.
The Bears certainly improved from last year's un-dynamic duo of Payne and Afalava. Unfortunately, it did not take much to improve on such a dreary situation. Wright will be a solid contributor, but it will take a season or two before he gets his legs under him. Harris is another guy that can have a great impact, but he is not able to dominate a game. Manning has been maddening to watch from Day 1, at times looking like a future Pro Bowler but then making a mental gaffe. Currently, the Bears have a few safeties that would make for great complementary pieces alongsdie an elite player, but each of them lacks the tools necessary to control a game on his own – the departed Mike Brown used to do that.
The Bears rank 21st at the safety position. Directly in front of them are the Houston Texans at No. 20, while the Seattle Seahawks are directly behind them at No. 22. Reed and the Baltimore Ravens rank No. 1 overall. As for the rest of the NFC North, the Minnesota Vikings rank 13th, the Green Bay Packers are 16th and the Detroit Lions come in at 27th.
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