Question marks dot Bears secondary

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Editor’s Note: the final article previewing the Bears positional units ahead of training camp opening Wednesday, July 29.

The makeover in the Chicago Bears secondary is subtle yet drastic. Gone is ballhawking veteran and Bears fan favorite Charles “Peanut” Tillman.

After two straight injury-marred seasons, the Bears and Tillman decided to part ways. Tillman took his “Peanut punch” down to Carolina to reunite with former Bears defensive coordinator and current Panthers head coach Ron Rivera. While Tillman’s experience and playmaking skills will be missed, the Bears needed an infusion of young talent.

Last year’s first-rounder, Kyle Fuller, showed promise but staggered down the stretch trying to play through injuries and inconsistency. Fuller has a high-ceiling and should flourish under new defensive backs coach Ed Donatell.

At the other corner, veterans Tim Jennings and free agent import Alan Ball will compete. Jennings looks to rebound from a subpar season in which he was routinely picked on and saw his interceptions disappear. An offseason DUI arrest didn’t help matters. Jennings may be at a place in his career where he would be better suited for a nickel role.

Meanwhile, Ball is a former Jacksonville Jaguar who is an adequate stopgap player. He’s relatively durable, displays good instincts, and isn’t afraid to tackle.

Former New Orleans Saint Tracy Porter was signed late in the offseason and has a chance to crack the rotation if he can return to form and shake off injuries that curtailed his career the last two seasons. Porter is an aggressive, instinctive corner who can make plays if his health is good.

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Beyond those three, depth is a concern. Special teamer turned corner Sherrick McManis is willing but not suited for long-term duty. Youngster Al Louis-Jean, pressed into duty after injuries and attrition last season, possesses intriguing size and length, but is still too raw to be counted upon.  Demontre Hurst has managed to hang around the roster but has yet to find a niche as a nickel corner.

The Bears search for quality safety play enters a new phase. Former Pro Bowler Antrell Rolle rejoins Ryan Mundy atop the depth chart at the start of camp. Rolle and Mundy previously tag-teamed at the safety spot in the Giants secondary. Rolle is a grizzled veteran but doesn’t show it. He’s played every game the last five seasons, displaying the wisdom, toughness, and range necessary to succeed. He and Mundy should form a credible duo. Mundy was better than advertised last year, showing the versatility to play coverage, yet support the run. He’s not a star, but on a Bears defense that has struggled in the deep patrol, Mundy demonstrates competence and stability.

Second-year man Brock Vereen was a disappointment in his rookie season. He failed to show the range and instincts demonstrated in a standout collegiate career at the University of Minnesota. Perhaps most surprising was Vereen’s inability to tackle. He’ll be pushed by rookie fifth-rounder Adrian Amos. Amos possesses many of the desired traits, but some scouts knock his willingness to wrap up and make contact.

Bear Tracks:  As for the special teams, K Robbie Gould looks to r

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eturn after an injury late in the season forced the Bears to shut him down. Gould remains one of the NFL’s most reliable and clutch kickers, though his accuracy has dipped the last two seasons.

Punter Pat O’Donnell has the leg but needs more consistency. His rookie year can best be summed up as a learning experience.  He’ll have a new long snapper in veteran free agent Thomas Gafford.

The Bears struggled in the return game with the absence of Devin Hester. Neither kick nor punt returns generated much excitement or yardage. A host of players will have the opportunity in camp to show they can perform the duties.

 

 

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