As the series continues to transition to the defensive side of the football, we begin to see more and more familiar faces. Cornerback has been a position that the Bears have had up and down play from over the past decade. While one spot has been continuously manned by Charles Tillman, who has been seemingly getting better and better with age.
Opposite him, there has been a revolving door of players that have been good, if great at times, as well as many forgettable guys; Nathan Vasher, R.W. McQuarters, Zack Bowman, Ricky Manning Jr., Dante Wesley, Trumaine McBride, Marcus Hamilton and Corey Graham, just to name a few.
Two seasons ago Tim Jennings joined the fray and many of us just thought he would be a player for depth and Colts fans trolled us sarcastically telling us we'd enjoy him. But Bears fans got the last laugh last year when Jennings turned in a Pro-Bowl year.
But there has been a little turnover at the position group, so let's see how it all shakes out for this season.
Starting cornerback #1: Charles Tillman (11th NFL season)
Job Responsibilities: Shutdown opponents number one receiver, defend the pass, create turnovers and basically take away an opponents top pass catching threat. Also play the run on the edges.
Job so Far: In a word; phenomenal. Tillman went to his second straight Pro-Bowl and forced an unbelievable 10 fumbles. He had three interceptions, all of which were returned for TDs. He was a First Team All-Pro for the first time in his career and he more or less cemented himself as the best corner in Bears history.
Confidence Level: High. Tillman continues to play at a high level despite turning 32 in February. He should still have a couple high-level years left. Bears fans shouldn't have to worry about the side of the field with number 33 patrolling.
Starting cornerback #2: Tim Jennings (8th season)
Job Responsibilities: Shutdown opponents' number two receiver, get interceptions and force fumbles and defend the run as well.
Job So Far: Jennings' first year in a Bears uniform in 2011 was a career average year for him: two interceptions, forcing one fumble while starting 15 games. He registered a career high in tackles with 69. However, in 2012, he managed a career high in INTs with nine and scoring the first touchdown of his career on his way to his first Pro-Bowl appearance. Such an outlier year is unusual for a player who to that point had never had more than two INTs in a year.
Confidence Level: High. I was tempted to go low, because I have a hard time believing that a play who was merely average for the first six years of his career could suddenly become great, but I think that even if he isn't as outstanding as last year, his play is elevated by playing across from Tillman. Jennings is a good enough number two.
Starting nickelback: Kelvin Hayden (9th season)
Job Responsibilities: Cover the slot receiver, create turnovers and play the run.
Job So Far: Solid. Hayden played in all 16 games for the first time since 2007, his third year in the league. Once D.J. Moore was relegated to Lovie's doghouse, Hayden stepped in admirably and made Bears fans realize just how poorly Moore had been playing. As long as Hayden is healthy, he should be starting in the nickel spot for the Bears.
Confidence Level: High. I'm feeling optimistic about all the Bears' starting CBs. Hayden is the best option and as long as he's healthy he can step in for either of the other two in the event of an injury and play the slot well.
Backup Cornerbacks: Zack Bowman (6th season), Isaiah Frey (2nd season), Demontre Hurst (rookie), Sherrick McManis (4th season), C.J. Wilson (rookie)
Job Responsibilities: Provide depth for the top three CBs, be able to step in for injuries and be quality special teams contributors.
Job so Far: Who knows? Other than Bowman, who has 16 career starts and is the only member of the back up group who has started an NFL game. McManis has appeared in 35 games with no starts. Bowman and McManis shape up to be good special teams contributors but their starting capabilities aren't the best.
Confidence Level: Zero. The lack of starts among the depth is very concerning. Frey has been a developmental player for the Bears, spending most of last season on the practice squad after being a late-round pick but he likely needs more developing. If any of these guys need to start for more than a game or two, it could get very scary very quickly.
Overall Confidence Level: High. Other than the lack of experience on the bottom end of the position group, the quality of the starters overcomes that. As long as the secondary is in the hands of Tillman and Jennings, the Bears are in good hands.
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