Before we get started, I think we should go out and get a free safety in free agency as much as the next guy, but while the Bears front office has definitely made a 180 this off season as far as the FA market goes, it remains to be seen if that was a philosophical change or a one shot deal. So while we wait with baited breath to see if we make a legitimate play for Atogwe I decided to take a quick look at the talent we have at the CB/S positions and see if we have anyone that might have the talent to be a FS. After taking a good long look at it and pushed to the brink of insanity after seeing that we had signed Bullocks to another contract I had a strange though, what about D.J. Moore? Follow me below the fold where we'll take a look at what Moore brings to the table, and why he might be just what the doctor ordered.
So let's start things off with what the difference is between the FS and the SS, because while they are similar positions and in some defensive sets almost exactly the same there are a few key differences that really explain why most of our current safeties aren't suited to the job.
1. The strong safety plays to the side with the TE
I know, I know. That seems completely obvious, but it actually means a lot more than you think. While a lot of TE have changed into more a receiver, they are still usually one of the bigger receivers for the other team and harder to bring down, so it makes sense to have a bigger guy covering the TE on those plays. Also, as the TE is also used as a blocker for the run the SS is usually the first DB to be called up in run support, making his larger size an asset in breaking that block to get to the runner.
2. The free safety rarely has a man coverage assignment.
There is a saying that goes that the Free Safety is the "deepest of the deep, and the widest of the wide", meaning he often gets the job of covering everything behind the linebackers, and inside the CB. This is a fairly large piece of real estate which means a lot of the FS play is all about reaction to what is going on, to the QB's eyes, and to the players movements and routes. It really is all about reaction as more often than not you're the last line of defense if the FS is being called on to make a play.
3. The free safety is sometimes referred to as the QB of the defense.
I know what you might be thinking, I thought that was the MLB who got the plays to the defense. That's not exactly what they are talking about, although the FS does relay play calls to the other DB in some situations. What they are trying to say is, in the way that the QB surveys the field and looks for opportunities, the free safety has the same kind of role where he is looking for what the QB might think is an opportunity and preparing to snatch that away at the last moment. For this reason you often see the FS being a ball-hawking type of player who comes up with INT/Deflection in clutch moments, this is also why quickness, fast reaction time, and all around good coverage abilities are of the utmost importance to the FS. If you're out of position to make the play, then it's very possible that you could be looking at a TD instead of an INT.
Alright, with that small bit of information out of the way let's get back to the crazy wild-eyed statement at hand, which I'll repeat for the sake of those who thought they misread it the first time. I think D.J. Moore could be a great free safety. Now, before you instantly throw this away as nonsense, make remarks about his size, or his ability to hold up to the position just sit on your hands for a second and look at the positives he brings to the table first.
1. Moore was a very high quality CB at Vanderbilt.
Moore was originally pegged as a first round talent at corner back who was mostly hampered by his "poor" 40 time of 4.56 which slid him all the way to the 4th round where the Bears picked him up. Coming in at 5,9 192 in college, his small stature was seen as barely adequate for the CB position which also hurt his draft stock, but it never seemed to hinder him at Vandy. Moore was an All-SEC first teamer both his Sophmore and Junior years, as well as an All American in his junior and final year at Vanderbilt. Moore regularly shut down the opposing team's best receiver.
2. Moore is known for having great instincts when it comes to the ball.
Now when I say he has great instincts, what I'm really saying is he often seems to know the opponents routes better than they do. Some of that comes from his receiving playing time at receiver off and on throughout his carreer, but it's this kind of instinct that makes a decent FS good, and a good FS great. One of the biggest disadvantages a FS has is that the receiver knows where his cuts are, so having a mind capable of predicting those cuts goes a long way towards evening up the playing field.
3. Moore has very good closing speed, recovery speed, and all around drive.
One of the things you'll find watching Moore, or reading his scouting reports is that he's on you in a flash, closing that final distance extremely quickly. Another facet of the same skill is that on the rare instances where his aggressiveness lead to the wrong call he recovers from the mistake and makes the tackle with very little hesitation. In fact, his drive to bring down the ball carrier can be seen on more than a few plays when he was at Vanderbilt where a receiver on the other side of the field had the ball, and D.J. Moore comes across the field like a bat out of hell to track down the receiver. This kind of drive to end the play even when it's not "your man" is exactly what the FS position requires.
Now, Moore definitely had some knocks coming out of Vanderbilt, but luckily most of them are less applicable to the FS position then they are the CB position.
1. Moore was at times dominated at the line of scrimmage/blocking receivers.
Rarely called on to enter press coverage, when he was there was a few instances where he got manhandled, and a few more where he was blocked out very badly by large receivers on running plays. For what it's worth, despite his small stature his upper body build is quite large so he never really had any problems making the tackle, and in fact seemed to relish the opportunity to hit receivers on the short and crossing routes. By taking Moore off the line, you'd be removing him from the press coverage(although I'm not sure we've actually used any in a few years).
2. Moore was at times fooled by double moves, and the occasional stutter.
While definitely not an every down type issue, it did happen a couple of times a year almost always due to his aggressive coverage style. It's really quite a toss up on how much an impact this would have at free safety, as he'd be watching the move from afar allowing him a lot more time to recover if fooled, but it could take a bit away from his play as he'd have to temper his aggressive streak a tad while sitting back in the zone.
So what does everyone else think? In a worse case scenario where we don't pick up a new FS, could D.J. Moore be our guy?