In this ongoing series I'll take an in-depth look at each position on the Bears with an eye towards 2011. Thanks to Pro Football Focus, I'll be able to give a different perspective on the players by showcasing their grading system. The offense and special teams is in the books, so next up is the defense. And I'll start with a position that was in flux for most of Lovie Smith's tenure as head coach, safety. Last season there was actually some stability at safety, so of course 2011 might see one of the starters leave via free agency.
Danieal Manning - free agent - I'd love for Manning to return, I thought he really settled into the strong safety position in 2010, but I think he wants a change of scenery and a fat raise. If he doesn't get a ridiculous offer I can see him entertaining the thought of remaining a Bear, but if I were to make a guess it would be that he's gone.
Pro Football Focus had Manning ranked as the 7th best safety in the NFL. Just 0.2 behind Defensive Player of the Year Troy Polamalu. And well ahead of O.J. Atogwe and Bob Sanders. If the Bears are seriously considering signing either of those two over Manning I would be disappointed. Even though Manning had only 1 interception, he didn't allow any TDs on his watch. And when quarterbacks threw at Manning their QB rating was only 59.7.
Chris Harris - signed through 2011 - Harris was a stabilizing force in the Bears secondary after being reacquired. He was a good teammate, a good leader, and his play was solid as well. Harris will be back starting at one of the safety spots next year.
Harris, who made some All Pro teams, received a neutral grade by PFF, and was their 41st rated safety. It was a -7.1 grade in pass coverage that really brought down his overall number, which just strengthens the opinion that his best position is strong safety.
Major Wright - signed through 2013 - I think the Bears really want Wright to step up in 2011 and take the control of the FS position. He has the range to do so, he just needs experience. The Bears might roll the dice and hope Wright is ready to start at FS next to Harris at SS and simply allow Manning to leave. If the coaches are indecisive on Wright being ready, they should resign Manning and increase Wright's reps at FS. Either way expect to see a lot more of Major Wright in 2011. PFF had Wright with a positive grade against the run and a negative grade against the pass.
Josh Bullocks - free agent - Bullocks had a very nondescript career in Chicago. When he was signed his blooper reel from his Saints days was all anyone talked about, but he didn't really have enough playing time to stand out as a Bear. NFL.com had him with 34 tackles in his two seasons, but I don't recall any of them. PFF gave him a neutral grade in the 47 snaps they graded him on. My guess is he's gone.
Craig Steltz -signed through 2011 - Steltz is a solid special teams player, and knowledgeable enough to be able to step in and play either safety spot. Unless the Bears have a surprise player step up in camp, I don't see Steltz leaving.
2011 OUTLOOK - The Bears could draft a safety in the later rounds to come in and compete for an end of the roster spot and to play on special teams. I'd love to see Manning brought back to play SS, and Harris and Wright continue to split reps at FS. I just think the Bears have finally found a home for Danieal Manning after years of flipping him around, and to let him walk now would be foolish.
If the Bears make a push to resign Manning, that tells me they don't think Wright is ready to be a full time starter. If they try and fail to keep Manning, then and only then, do I think they pursue a starting quality FA.
Next time out I'll go over the cornerback position, and be sure to check out fellow WCG writer Timothy Hockemeyer's take on the all the defensive backs in his splendid Musical Chairs series.