It's always a good thing when Windy City Gridiron can bring you information and analysis from someone who is on the inside and has direct contact with the team. Brad Biggs has done a great job during this offseason with providing readers of WCG with insight, despite being bogged down with his own blog, and the National Football Post. (For those of you who haven't visited there before, the NFP does some stellar work.)
Nathan Vasher: On the bubble? Where does he stand right now?
I think it is probably fair to say that Vasher has not turned it on like the Bears hoped he would. Jerry Angelo was real upbeat when talking about Vasher at the beginning of the offseason program, and the feeling was he would be able to rebound to previous form. Vasher simply didnt make the kind of plays we were accustomed to seeing from him during training camp and the preseason has been a mixed bag thus far, although I thought it was encouraging to see him make a nice open-field tackle on Ahmad Bradshaw against the Giants.
I should also point out that defensive backs coach Jon Hoke said Vasher was more physical against the Giants, which is what he wants to see. Lovie Smith has been pretty clear that the team is waiting for Charles Tillman and Zack Bowman to return from injuries as the starters. That means Tillman going to his familiar left cornerback position and Bowman probably unseating Vasher at right cornerback.
No one has a real explanation for what has happened to Vasher. He looks lighter than he did in the past when he really bulked up in his upper body, probably to help in run support. He's a diligent worker and a bright guy. Sometimes, guys just lose it. When you look ahead to roster cuts, it's hard to say exactly what happens. Vasher's already received the biggest chunks of pay in his contract. He's not making a prohibitive amount of money to keep him on the roster. More than you want to pay a backup? Yes.
But the Bears are in a very comfortable position when it comes to the salary cap and you've still got to have backups that can hopefully play. Remember what happened with 11 seconds remaining in Atlanta last season when the Bears had an inexperienced cornerback on the field? When you consider the health of the projected starters and that rookie D.J. Moore has done little in camp, it looks like Vasher stays to me. That might not be the popular opinion right now, but I think its the right move. You can never have too many corners and the Bears are not going to need to teach the system to Vasher. He's not the Pro Bowl player they had before, but he's better than a lot of alternatives.
Craig Steltz: Before camp, he was getting a ton of endorsements from the team. Lately, he has seemingly fallen off the radar. What's up?
The endorsements Steltz was receiving throughout the offseason were probably created by hope more than anything else. The Bears were hoping a fourth-round pick they said was a starting-caliber player on draft day could fill the role. The biggest problem was they were counting on him filling the role of a free safety without the tool box needed to be a really efficient starter. That's what made the last-minute switch of Danieal Manning back to free safety confusing. The Bears had to know Steltz didnt have the range and the ability to play center field and cover the deep post. But they waited too long to switch the constantly shifting Manning. Steltz has a value. He's a decent player on special teams but his skills may have been overstated on draft day. He just doesn't run real well and football IQ and all of those things can only compensate so much for limited range.
Al Afalava: Forget fighting for a roster spot, could he be in the starting lineup come September?
You hate to use the word surprise when it comes to the National Football League, but at this point it might be a mild surprise if Afalava isn't in the starting lineup Sept. 13 at Green Bay. Provided he makes it through Sunday's game at Denver without a handful of mental miscues, he should be on target.
Lovie Smith has taken a real liking to Afalava and he's done some nice things in training camp and preseason. They like him enough to have Kevin Payne back at free safety, at least for the time being, a spot where he is probably not at his best. Afalava has a chance to cover a lot of ground in a hurry like other rookie safeties have done under Smith.
Chris Harris, Danieal Manning and Payne (before he broke his arm as a rookie) stepped up quickly. Let's remember, none of those players were destined for stardom, but they were productive. What cannot be forgotten here is that the Bears need for a standout free safety remains. That is a difficult position to fill, and the Bears are going to be looking to get by in the secondary this season. Based on inexperience and the injuries plaguing the cornerbacks, they're going to take their lumps at times, I would imagine. But the arrow is certainly pointing up with Afalava and he will be interesting to watch.