New Chicago Bears GM Phil Emery focused hard on the secondary this off season. He drafted three prospects, signed three veteran corners, and brought back one of his starters. While I don't think we'll see much of a difference in the top five defensive backs, the depth will look very different. Starting corners Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings along with #1 nickle back D.J. Moore will be joined on the 53 man roster by starting safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte.
The last two years the Bears have opened up with 11 defensive backs. If we are to assume the Bears will do the same this season, that leaves six spots for the remaining eleven DBs to battle for.
I've grown to appreciate the play of Craig Steltz. He's preformed when called on to play safety and he's a good special teamer. The knock on him has always been athleticism, but he seems athletic enough to me. I'll take a really smart football player that runs a 4.7 40 over a 4.4 guy that has to think about his assignments. His high football I.Q. makes up for what he lacks in speed. Steltz is a lock for the final roster.
I also think 3rd round draft pick Brandon Hardin is an obvious lock to stick around in 2012, but the question for him is whether he ends up on injured reserve. He'll be on the shelf for a couple weeks waiting for reevaluation on his neck injury. If everything comes back clean, he'll be on the 53, but if there's even an inkling that he may need more time to heal I think he'll be donning the redshirt this year.
Of the other safeties on the roster I think Anthony Walters has a good shot of sticking around. He went from the practice squad to the active roster to injured reserve last season, and so far in two preseason games he has 4 tackles. Which leaves newly signed Mark LeGree and undrafted free agents Jeremy Jones and Trevor Coston fighting to make an impact. One or two of them may make the practice squad.
Over at corner, the Bears will give long looks to veterans Kelvin Hayden and Jonathan Wilhite. Hayden may have an edge because he looks to be the primary nickle back up. These two will battle with rookies Greg McCoy and Isaiah Frey. McCoy has return skills and Frey brings some length to the position. I'd expect these 4 to get a lot of playing time in the final two preseason games. The Bears also have CB Cornelius Brown in camp who saw playing time in 10 games last year for the Colts.
The Bears will no doubt bring at least five corners into week 1, but I wouldn't be surprised to see as many as seven. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will do his best to put the bubble guys in position to shine or sink these next couple weeks.
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