Safety-returner Manning proving to be sound investment
Safety-returner Manning proving to be sound investment
With each passing game, he makes himself more valuable to Bears
At some point during training camp, Danieal Manning and Mark Anderson huddled in the dorm and made a pact for this season.
"We told each other we were really going to ball out this year, just really make an impact for this team,'' Manning said. "But unfortunately things didn't exactly work out as planned.''
The Bears' starting strong safety has held up his side of the bargain through the first five games. He has had to perform better than initially expected while adjusting to his fourth position but is third on the team in tackles with 32 as the Bears prepare for Sunday's game against the Seahawks.
"He's getting himself in position to make plays,'' coach Lovie Smith said. "He has as much range as anyone. And now, he's due for a really big game.''
In contrast, Anderson couldn't make good on his opportunity. The Bears' surprising decision to sever ties with the once-promising defensive end left Manning as the lone defensive holdover from the 2006 draft. (Devin Hester was moved from cornerback to receiver.)
Defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek was released after an injury-riddled career, and linebacker Jamar Williams was traded to the Panthers to reacquire safety Chris Harris.
Reached multiple times this week, Anderson, now with the Texans, declined comment. His sudden departure caught Manning off guard.
"Did it shake me up? Oh, yeah,'' Manning said. "I mean, Mark and I were definitely friends. That whole class that came in together, we became tight. And for the most part, a lot of us came in playing well. You would think that was enough to stick around, but you can't think like that. Not in this business.''
Funny Manning should mention the business aspect. Manning and Anderson were restricted free agents this offseason and both had hoped to secure long-term deals.
The Bears obviously favored Anderson over Manning when they extended a one-year, second-round tender worth $1.759 million to the former fifth-round pick as compared with the $1.176 million original-round tender extended to former second-rounder Manning. If the Bears had tendered Manning higher or agreed to a two-year deal, he wouldn't have staged a mini-protest by skipping a portion of voluntary workouts.
"I had a lot to think about,'' Manning said. "I thought about changes I made, all the positions I've been in, and not really having a solid spot. I thought about what if I wasn't in Chicago and where would I go. I thought about what other teams perceived me as."
Manning's decision to stay away didn't sit well with Smith. The coach was adamant about Manning being at Halas Hall with his teammates.
"He told me I had to get in, and the way I could prove (myself) was to come in early and get more work.''
Smith declined to discuss the specifics behind his offseason conversations with Manning.
"When guys have contract disputes, they miss a little bit of the time,'' Smith said. "But Danieal made the majority of work that we needed him to do.''
Safety was one of the Bears' biggest concerns entering the season yet the position has been one of the most pleasant surprises thus far, despite a few hiccups.
Most figured Manning's work at strong safety would be temporary and that he would return to nickel back with Harris -- a natural strong safety -- back in the fold and rookie free safety Major Wright added to the mix. But when Wright made his debut in the season opener as part of a rotation, Harris was taken off the field, not Manning.
Wright continues to recover from a hamstring strain that has sidelined him since Week 2. When he returns, Manning doesn't envision his role changing but won't take anything for granted.
"Since I've been here, I've always thought I would have to earn a position,'' Manning said. "I never considered myself a starter. I still don't consider myself a starter now. I'm just out here trying to make plays. I just have to keep grinding.''
Manning also has proved his worth as a returner on kickoffs. Assistant special teams coach Chris Tabor summed up his running style in two words: crazy horse.
"I guess that's what they call me around here now,'' Manning said.
His relentless, straight-line bursts are part of the reason Manning is fifth in the NFL in kickoff returns with an average of 29.8 yards. In fact, he will be one of four top return men on display Sunday along with Hester and the Seahawks' tandem of Leon Washington and rookie Golden Tate.
Special teams coordinator Dave Toub said during the offseason he couldn't imagine life without Manning after Manning had the brief contract spat. Such would imply how valuable Manning is to the team.
"I would never say that,'' Manning said. "I mean, we have some top guys here.''
But Manning could make himself indispensable if he continues his solid play on defense and special teams. Last week at Carolina, he nearly had his first interception of the season but batted the ball down instead of corralling it. In the same game, he set up the Bears' first score with a 62-yard return of the opening kickoff.
Now he just wants to prove he deserves to be Bear for years to come.
"Really, I look at it like this: the coaches, the owners and the organization don't owe me anything,'' he said. "They already have given me a chance. When I signed that contract, I owed them to play football, show up on time for work and be the consummate professional while I'm a Chicago Bear. And that's what I'm going to do throughout the rest of the season and beyond.''