22 Starters in 22 Days: Safety

Leading up to training camp, JC will preview all 22 starters for the Chicago Bears on both sides of the ball – strengths, weaknesses and whatever lies in between. Finally, we look at safety.

Projected starters: Chris Harris, Danieal Manning
Coach Lovie Smith went out of his way all offseason long to tell the media how disappointed he was in the play of his safeties this past season, so there has been a seismic shift at both positions. Harris, a one-time sixth-round pick and a starter for Chicago in 2006, was re-acquired in a trade with the Panthers for reserve linebacker Jamar Williams, and he is currently atop the depth chart at the free safety spot. Like a cat with nines lives, Manning simply won't go away and has endured yet another switch, this time lining up at strong safety.

Projected backups: Major Wright, Craig Steltz, Al Afalava, Josh Bullocks
A lot of Bears fans are hoping Wright, a third-round selection and general manager Jerry Angelo's top pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, would be able to step in and start right away. However, the former Florida Gator couldn't do any better than second-team reps in both minicamp and OTAs, plus Smith reiterated his confidence in Manning at his training camp-opening press conference Thursday in Bourbonnais. While Afalava was a starter the majority of his rookie season, the coaching staff seems to have soured on him and he is no lock for the 53-man roster.

2009 Review
Quite simply, the Bears were bad at both safety positions a year ago, as the revolving door at both spots throughout Smith's regime has gotten practically comical. Ever since Mike Brown's body started to break down half a decade ago, nobody has been able to solidify himself in the lineup at either spot and the group as a whole is not forcing turnovers – Smith's Cover 2 flat-out doesn't work if defenders aren't creating takeaways. Another part-time starter from last season, Kevin Payne, was traded to St. Louis one day after the Harris deal, and Angelo settled for nothing more than a conditional seventh rounder in return.

2010 Preview
Harris transformed into a very good player during his time in Carolina, so the Bears were happy to have him back without giving up too much in trade, but this is the same Harris that was shipped out in training camp 2007 because Adam Archuleta was in town. More pure athlete than polished football player, the only place Manning has proven he can perform pretty well – aside from returning kicks – is nickel back, yet Smith now wants to give hm a shot at strong safety and eliminate the head-scratching mistakes he has been known to make deep downfield in coverage. Put simply, with Harris at free safety and Manning at strong safety, they're both out of position based on the physical tools they possess.

S Danieal Manning
Scott Boehm/Getty

I'd much rather have ...
Louis Delmas and Ko Simpson in Detroit. Even if Simpson is nothing more than an average player in this league, Delmas was a difference maker as a rookie and looks like an eventual Pro Bowler in the Motor City. Yes, he talks a lot of trash for a youngster on a 1-15 ballclub, but he recorded 94 tackles and really packs a punch as the last line of defense. Bears fans will be hearing his name often in the future.

But they're better than ...
Reggie Nelson and Gerald Alexander in Jacksonville. Yes, Nelson was a first-round pick just three years ago and brought a lot of hype with him in the draft, but he went from five interceptions as a rookie to two as a second-year pro to zero last season, and word out of Jax is he's soft. Alexander was considered expendable by the aforementioned Lions after the 2009 campaign, which is saying something since Detroit has been terrible defending the pass seemingly forever.

Confidence-o-Meter: 4.6 *
Safety was a glaring weak spot for the Bears in 2009, and even though the depth chart has been taken apart and rebuilt, it doesn't look to be much better in 2010. Remember, Harris was considered an inferior player in the eyes of the coaches to Manning, Archuleta and Brandon McGowan fairly recently, probably because he can't cover and has never been a sure tackler. He did well for himself with the Panthers, but they sure did give him away for cheap. Maybe Manning will finally live up to all that potential, although how many safeties take five seasons and just as many position flip-flops to develop? Wright needs to come along as fast as possible and be ready at a moment's notice.

* Much like Ron Swanson from "Parks and Recreation" came up with a scientifically perfect 10-point scale for human beauty, JC has done the same with confidence in safeties. 10.0 is Ronnie Lott asking for the trainer to cut off his pinkie.

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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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