Safety position continues to haunt Bears

Safety position continues to haunt Bears
Personally, I think we should gather up all the Bears’ safeties in the Soldier Field endzone and make a goat walk circles around them three times or something to try and lift this near decade-long curse …

It’s been eight years since the Bears last made it through an NFL Draft without selecting a safety. This year, freshman GM Phil Emery made it three straight third-round selections, nabbing Brandon Hardin out of Oregon State with the 79th overall pick.

Seems it’s hard(in) to let go of that long-held Bears’ tradition.

To that rather sardonic observation, and perhaps also against it, Hardin played his entire collegiate career at cornerback, not safety. So maybe it was the tradition of putting players out of position that Emery really continued.

But I digress.

It hasn’t just been eight players through Lovie Smith’s now nine seasons as head coach. All told, the Bears have changed players at the starting safety positions at least 56 different times since 2004; an impressive, if somewhat disturbing, number.

In terms of starters, a total of 14 have passed through the ranks, only three of those—Chris Conte, Major Wright, and Craig Steltz—still remain with the team.

For those who can’t recall the other 11:

  • Daniel Manning (54 starts)
  • Chris Harris (39 starts)
  • Mike Brown (36 starts)
  • Kevin Payne (21 starts)
  • Mike Green (19 starts)
  • Todd Johnson (16 starts)
  • Al Afalava (13 starts)
  • Brandon McGowan (11 starts)
  • Adam Archuleta (10 starts)
  • Brandon Meriweather (4 starts)
  • Josh Bullocks (2 starts)

Perhaps the best of the lot, present starters included, was Mike Brown, who still holds the Bears’ franchise record for most defensive touchdowns scored with seven. Brown, who was selected in the second round of the 2000 NFL Draft—some said the Bears “reached” to take him—looked to have a promising career ahead of him before the injury curse came calling.

While I can say with no certainty the level of his involvement with the Brown selection, Bears fans might be interested to know that current GM Phil Emery was a collegiate scout for the Bears at the time Brown was drafted.

Just as folks thought the Bears were “reaching” for Brown, many thought the same could be said of Emery’s selection of DE Shea McClellin in the first-round of the 2012 NFL Draft. You connect the dots, if you feel there is a connection to be made.

For the Bears, Brown’s story of success undermined by injury is a unique one. But if only for the fact that none of the other safeties mentioned above showcased the promise that Brown once did. Injuries themselves, on the other hand, have been anything but unique.

Take Kevin Payne for example: Payne spent all of 2007 with the Bears on injured reserve. He missed three games in 2009 with an injury before being released by the Bears and spending all of 2010 on injured reserve with the Rams. He hasn’t played since.

Todd Johnson missed six games through two seasons with the Bears. His last stint was in Buffalo, where he spent most of the 2009 season also on injured reserve.

And of course we can’t forget Brandon McGowan, who spent all of his 2006 campaign with the Bears on IR and missed two games the following season before being given a reduced role with the team in 2008. He last saw action, or lack thereof, in New England, where he spent all of 2010 back on that pesky IR.

But enough of the history lesson. Bears fans already know how much of a revolving door the position has been. But with at least four of the team’s players at the position currently owning similar track records for injury, my point is that the fun ain’t over yet.

History, after all, repeats itself.

Third-round selection Brandon Hardin didn’t play his entire senior season at Oregon State due to injury and is now sidelined for at least the rest of the Bears’ preseason with a head/neck injury.

Major Wright, who is currently healthy—thank the Lord for small favors—missed four games in 2010 with a hamstring injury and two games in 2011 with a shoulder injury. He missed preseason action both seasons as well.

Chris Conte, who is currently being held out of competition with a shoulder injury, missed the end of the 2011 season on injured reserve with a foot/ankle injury. Even Anthony Walters, who is said to be coming on strong to make the roster this season, spent the end of 2011 on injured reserve.

It’s hard to put Craig Steltz in a group with these guys—and I won’t—as his injury history is probably prototypical of defensive backs around the league, but despite his limited role, he hasn’t always managed to stay healthy either. He missed some regular season time in 2008, and preseason time in 2010 and 2011 due to injury.

It’s certainly fair to say that the Bears’ defense has excelled over the years despite their distress at the safety position. And you’d be right to say it. It’s possible that the defense will continue to excel once again this season, laughing all the way.

But problems at safety persist for Lovie Smith and company. And it’s time they fix it.

I suspect that means making it nine straight years, drafting yet another.

Filed under: Coaches and Management

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