Today we take a look at the cornerback position in our Chicago Bears depth chart projection series:
Starting LCB (left cornerback): Charles Tillman
Last year in the preseason, we thought we were finally seeing the inevitable age decline in Charles Tillman. However, he proved once the season started that not only is he not declining, but that has obviously gotten better with age.
In 2012, Tillman finished the season with 86 combined tackles, 10 force fumbles and three interceptions. The strong season helped him earn his second-straight Pro Bowl appearance and an All-Pro team selection. Tillman has gone from underrated around the league to recognize as one of the best CBs in the game.
So far in these off-season workouts, Tillman has shown no signs of decline. He’s been making Jay Cutler and the WRs lives difficult during one-on-ones and team drills. Under new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, Tillman could be in for another Pro Bowl season in 2013.
Starting RCB (right cornerback): Tim Jennings
It was a breakout season for Jennings in 2012. While QBs avoided throwing to Tillman’s side, Jennings feasted on the opportunity. He had trouble creating turnovers in 2011, as he would be in position to make a play on the ball but couldn’t follow through. Last season, however, was a different story as he developed into a ball-hawking CB.
Jennings’ nine interceptions led the league in 2012, but just as impressive were his 21 pass deflections on the year. If he wasn’t creating turnovers for himself, he was creating them for his fellow defensive teammates. Plain and simple, Jennings was a playmaker for the Bears’ defense.
The question in 2013 is can he replicate his 2012 success. I don’t think Jennings will have quite the same success from a statistical standpoint, but I expect him to have another solid season.
Nickelback: Kelvin Hayden
Hayden had a down season last year, giving up a high percentage of passes to opposing QBs in 2012. The veteran just didn’t look comfortable at all at the nickel back position, as slot WRs had their way with him. Despite all of that, G.M. Phil Emery brought back Hayden on a one-year deal. He enters Bears training camp running with the first-team defense at NB, and the hope is that Hayden is fully comfortable within the system.
Hayden is a purely physical corner whose quickness and speed have declined over the years. His skill-set suits him best on the outside with a more quickly instinctive corner manning the NB role. Expect second-year player Isaiah Frey to challenge Hayden for that nickel back role throughout training camp.
It doesn’t surprise me that the Bears brought Bowman back for two reasons: The first is that he’s a solid special teams player; the second is that, in Tucker’s defense, we should expect a little more man-to-man coverage, which best suits Bowman skill-set.
Bowman’s strength has never been playing off the line of scrimmage in zone coverage, but instead up on the line in press coverage where his size can be an advantage over some opposing WRs. So far Bowman has reportedly had a great camp for the Bears and is looking like the main back-up behind Tillman and Jennings in case one of them goes down.
The Bears selected Isaiah Frey in the sixth round last year; the stage was too big for Frey, though, as he didn’t make the 53-man roster. Frey was signed to the practice squad, however, which was beneficial for him. He has come into camp this year looking more comfortable; so comfortable that he has an opportunity to take the NB spot away from Hayden on the Chicago Bears depth chart.
At 6-0, 190 pounds, Frey is a quick physical corner who can come up at the line of scrimmage and re-route WRs on their patterns. He also has shown the ability to put himself in position to make plays on the ball (21 pass breakups and five interceptions his senior year at Nevada), which has been on display at training camp this year. If Frey keeps having a strong camp, don’t be surprise if he’s the opening day NB.
McManis was brought in on a trade last year for FB Tyler Clutts. Known as more of a special team’s player, McManis has reportedly shown coverage ability on defense this off-season. He has been working with the second team, and he has gotten his hands on the football plenty so far through five training camp practices.
I still don’t know if McManis could be a reliable back-up, but he will have a chance to convince me and other fans in preseason that he can be more than just a special teams player.
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