Bears positional analysis: Cornerbacks
Bears positional analysis: Cornerbacks
By Brad Biggs
Sixth in a 10-part series
It has become an annual question for the Chicago Bears: Who will step up and become a starter at cornerback opposite veteran Charles Tillman?
Two years ago it was Zack Bowman, the fifth-round pick from Nebraska in 2008 who emerged in his second season, effectively pushing Nathan Vasher out the door. Bowman had a big offseason in which he turned heads with the coaches with the number of plays he made on the ball. He quickly took over the starting job and made six interceptions playing in 16 games with 12 starts.
Bowman looked like he would be in position to possibly be an heir apparent to the job on the left side that Tillman has held down virtually since he was a second-round pick in 2003. But as fast as Bowman emerged, he was relegated to the background even faster. Veteran Tim Jennings, who looked to be a depth addition last March, quickly claimed the starting job in Week 4 this past season.
The biggest move, though, might have been switching Tillman to the right side. The veteran spent the majority of the offseason away from the club working out near his home in California. When he arrived for the mandatory work, he found himself at a new position on the opposite side. The Bears were looking to get more picks in the secondary and the thinking was that Tillman had worn down a bit. Despite two shoulder surgeries and two back surgeries in his past, he made it through 16 games for the first time since his rookie season.
Now, the question is whether Tillman will have his sixth partner in six seasons. The starting job opposite him has been a revolving door. Injuries have played a part in it, and so has indecision. The changes have been prompted by necessity. Here are the players to play the most opposite Tillman in recent seasons:
2010: Tim Jennings, 13 starts.
2009: Zack Bowman, 12 starts.
2008: Corey Graham, 9 starts.
2007: Trumaine McBride, 9 starts.
2006: Nathan Vasher, 13 starts.
Another thing that has prompted the turnover is the franchise hasn't had much invested in the options. Vasher earned a nice second contract but since Tillman was drafted, Devin Hester is the highest-drafted cornerback for Angelo, a second-round pick in 2006. Here are the corners general manager Jerry Angelo has drafted since 2004, the year after Tillman came on board:
Nathan Vasher, 4th round, 2004.
Alfonso Marshall, 7th round, 2004.
Devin Hester, 2nd round, 2006.
Corey Graham, 5th round, 2007.
Trumaine McBride, 7th round, 2007.
Zack Bowman, 5th round, 2008.
D.J. Moore, 4th round, 2009.
Josh Moore, 5th round, 2010.
Roll call: Zack Bowman, Corey Graham, Tim Jennings, D.J. Moore, Josh Moore, Charles Tillman.
2010 overview: Tillman was maligned by many for his play and it's worth noting he turns 30 this month. He had numerous occasions where he slipped on the field, but who didn't? He managed to tie for the team lead with five interceptions, tying a career-high that he accomplished in 2005 and 2006. He forced three fumbles, giving him 17 over the past four seasons and also recovered two. His 24 forced fumbles are the most by a defensive back in the NFL since 2003.
But cornerback is about covering wide receivers and there were moments when the Bears needed to tighten up. Mike Williams of Seattle chewed up the secondary in the regular-season meeting with the Seahawks, although a lot of that is attributable to the scheme. Tillman is also a major factor in the run defense and his 101 tackles, ranking him third on the team, is evidence. It's the second-highest figure in his career behind only the 104 he posted in 2005. There has been some talk of Tillman eventually being moved to safety but you have to consider three factors. First, he wants to play cornerback. Second, do you want a player with the history of surgeries like he's had playing a position that will expose him to potentially more violent hits? Third, before you move a cornerback to a less significant position, you'd better replace him with a player you have high faith in. Considering the Bears have been spinning the carousel opposite Tillman, replacing one cornerback has been a challenge at times.
When did things go bad for Bowman? That's hard to say. He certainly got outplayed by Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions on the touchdown catch that wasn't a touchdown catch in Week 1. He didn't play well in Week 3 against the Packers, and that was the end of the road for him. But for the remainder of the season, Bowman was worked into the rotation from time to time. That right there tells you they were not completely sold on Jennings. Coaches talk about keeping players fresh and wanting to have them ready, but if you have a lockdown corner, he doesn't play in a rotation. At 5-8, 185 pounds, Jennings was a feisty competitor. He battled and was solid vs. the run, one of the reasons the Bears signed him.
Meanwhile, D.J. Moore emerged as a solid nickel back. He had two interceptions in the Week 2 upset at Dallas and returned a pick for a touchdown in Week 7 vs. the Redskins. With individual coaching from Lovie Smith, Moore emerged as the best nickel back the Bears have had since Ricky Manning Jr. Moore only had one sack, but showed some savvy rushing the passer and had a real feel for the game in the middle of the field. The question moving forward is can Moore play on the outside or is he a nickel? There's no shame in being a quality third cornerback. We've yet to see whether or not he can play every down on the outside, and he'd probably project to be on the right side if given the opportunity.
Corey Graham, the special teams stalwart, was frustrated by a lack of use own defense. Like many other positions, his inactivity was partially a result of the healthy nature of the roster. Hopefully, rookie Josh Moore made use of his season in the weight room. He put up only two reps on the bench press at 225 pounds at the scouting combine last year, and he dressed for only three games, collecting one special teams tackle. Moore has good size and was drafted because of his man-to-man cover skills. We'll see if he gets a shot like some of the other players to emerge from the shadows the last few seasons.
Free agency/draft priority: Many observers make this out to be a high-need area. It's going to depend on how the team evaluates the position. Coaches return from almost two weeks off Monday to begin evaluations. The team will spend the majority of this month breaking down the roster and formulating a plan.
The thing to keep in mind is Cover-2 based defenses don't put a high premium on the position. That's not to say cornerbacks are not valued. But it's a zone-based scheme so the Bears aren't out looking to invest in shutdown corners like Nnamdi Asomugha, who command huge salaries. Yes, cornerbacks are more important to the scheme than safeties, but the signature position in the defense is the under tackle. As we saw last year, pass rushers are coveted and paid top dollar. Then, the defense needs a middle linebacker with range like Brian Urlacher and a weak-side linebacker like Lance Briggs to make plays and cover. That doesn't leave big bucks for corners. It also doesn't put the team in a place where it wants to invest high picks in the position.
There have been 36 cornerbacks drafted in the first round in the last nine drafts and not one has come to the Bears. Tillman isn't going to be around forever -- but he is signed for three more seasons -- and the opposite side could be in line for an upgrade after the Packers went after Jennings in the NFC Championship Game.
Looking ahead: The best guess right now is Tillman returns as a starter with a competition opposite him, one that should include a newcomer. The Bears hit with Vasher in the fourth round in 2004 and it looks like they at least have a nickel back in D.J. Moore, another fourth-round pick. Could they use a higher pick this time around?
Bottom line: The improved pass rush helped the secondary look better this season. In the regular season, the Bears allowed only five completions longer than 33 yards and the two longest are most attributed to breakdowns by safeties.
I'm not sold on the idea of not going after high-dollar free agents at this position like Nnamdi Asomugha. True, he traditionally plays more man-to-man coverage, but who says he can't convert to a Tampa 2 zone scheme? I understand the desire to save money, but when push comes to shove, you have to get the best players for the job, and I can think of no other than Asomugha.
I would save my draft picks on getting WR's and OLmen as opposed to drafting some hotty toddy CB. But that's just me. My opinion and $5 will buy a cup of Joe at Starbucks.
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It not about the money per se, but about VALUE for the money. Of course a player like Nnamdi Asomugha can play the tampa-2, but the question isn't that, but is spending $10 mill/yr for a zone coverage CB worth it? Is that $10 mill better spent, let's say on a top '3' DT and a OG for same money and because its a zone "D", you get better 'value" from a lesser CB, but one that fits the scheme better and gets same production for 1/3 the value... IMO , "IF" you are getting a top CB, you better be changing alot of the "D" calls to alot more man/man within the scheme to take adavantage of the shut down corner, otherwise you are wasting the money.
Originally Posted by Dagan81
I'd like to see us gain a FA CB but I can't see us going on a spending spree this year. They are probably banking on seeing what Josh Moore can do and Bowman bouncing back.
Arguing on the internet is like winning the special olympics, even if you win your still messed up.
Restore the roar!
nomnom is the BPA in Free Agency. If we don't go for him, I'm in the chorus of Khalil Bell and Logan Mankins. Heck, if Light comes cheap, have him battle Williams for the LT. And yes, (this goes to grizz) I'm starting to think Webb might be the best RT option, but let's try to at least upgrade the backup at every spot.
Also, the games are won in the trenches, this much is true. If we either reduce Harris' salary, or cut him, we need to find someone who can rush the quarterback. I know we're not gonna find anyone as good as our rivals' DTs, but Peppers and Idonije are getting older, and to have them not have to battle as many offensive linemen/get held would be nice. Don't forget the Packers Bulaga is still a little green.
EDIT: He allowed only 8 fewer sacks than Webb, and he's a 1st round pick. It seems Webb has kept up with the 1st round offensive linemen this year, giving up only a few more than the ones i've seen so far, so for all the scrutiny we put on the dude, he's not as bad as we think..
Last edited by Henry Burris; 02-07-2011 at 12:16 PM.
The major issues at safety were solved this year by the addition of Chris Harris and the elevated play of Danieal Manning. The main weakness in the secondary was at CB.
Bowman has been inconsistent as hell when healthy and while Manning is one tough SOB and has some talent I don't think he's got the size needed to be an every day guy at that spot.
With need to add talent to the Oline first I'm certain that CB won't be as big a priority as it needs to be and that may prove to very shortsighted. I'm just hoping that JA doesn't do here what he did with the Oline and continue to ignore it until it becomes an overwhelming problem.
Unless this team get's a very good inside pass rush going again CB's will continue to come under pressure from every good QB we face and we won't make it to or win a championship without top caliber play. It's high time we spent some $$$ on the postion either in the form of a FA or a high draft pick
And think that's the point for 2011 specifically rathe see Oline and DT addressed before, if going to stay with the tampa-2 for a better use of the $$$ and in 2012 go after a top CB in draft, or F/A.. and honestly depending on what champ bailey wants, he could be that stop gap for 1-2 more years
Originally Posted by soulman
Although reporters rumors exist I can't see anyway the Broncos will "franchise" him for around $13 mil. The Broncos aren't going anywhere fast and I think Champ might like to finish his career with a potential SB team. Despite that he'd probably retire rather than to play for chump change so he won't come very cheap.
Originally Posted by dabears54
Even for a pretty penny though he might be one of the best bargains in FA. You hit the nail on the head brother. He's a future HOF stop gap CB that we can depend on for a couple of years until we fill other areas of greater need before we can draft a good rookie to take his place. Chewing gum patches on the Oline haven't paid off in the long run but this one might.
Strenghtening the CB position is something that needs to be looked at if we want to maintain parity with a vastly improving GB team next season.
Last edited by soulman; 02-08-2011 at 03:33 PM.
yep, and unlike the o-line where rook's do come in and can play right away at a top level- CB usually is a 2 year proposition, so for 2011 as long as the price is outrageous might be the ay to go, agree denver isn't tagging him
Originally Posted by soulman
I really hope the Bears will release Josh Moore very soon. Charles Tillman is getting old, Tim Jennings is undersized and overrated... Yep, we definitely need to draft a decent CB in the 3rd round.