Bears impressed with cornerbacks
Smith praises Jennings and Tillman believes group most talented in his tenure
By Brad Biggs, Chicago Tribune reporter
8:54 p.m. CDT, June 13, 2012
Bears coach Lovie Smith walked up to reporters Wednesday and started talking up his cornerbacks after the minicamp practice.
He singled Tim Jennings out as having "as good a camp as anyone." The starter from last season returned on a two-year contract with a mandate to make more plays after having only two interceptions and one fumble recovery in 2011. He has impressed so far.
Veteran Charles Tillman, coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance in nine seasons, took it to another level.
"In my 10 years of being here, this is the best group of corners we've had, just overall talent," Tillman said. "They're still learning the defense, but just as far as a talent standpoint, this is by the far the best group."
The Bears had 24 interceptions in both 2005 and 2006 when Nathan Vasher started opposite Tillman. Now, Kelvin Hayden and Jonathan Wilhite are veterans brought in to challenge for jobs along with draft picks Greg McCoy and Isaiah Frey. They have not surpassed that number since but interceptions are hardly the only measure for a secondary.
It's an interesting remark by Tillman, though. Keep in mind that Cover-2 base defenses typically don't make large investments at cornerback, keeping the focus on the line. You don't see these defenses paying top dollar for shutdown corners.
Complementary roles: Special teams coordinator Dave Toub described newcomer Eric Weems as a "north and south" runner on kickoff returns, similar in some ways to how Danieal Manning handled the role when he was with the team.
"(Devin) Hester is more, I've said this a million times, more of an outside guy," Toub said. "He wants to make you miss and get outside. Weems is a north and south physical type returner. He's going to break a lot of tackles but he really fits our scheme well. We try to block people and have a point of attack. He's going to be able to hit that thing exactly where we want it."
Hester continues to be a factor in the kickoff return game and Toub has found room for improvement for him as a punt returner.
"We've been working on him catching the really short punts, going up and getting those instead of letting them drop," Toub said. "That has been our emphasis. He really has done a good job. Devin has had a great camp, not only as a wide receiver but as a returner too."
Extra points: Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery returned after missing Tuesday with a leg injury. … Strong safety Major Wright had two interceptions, including one on the first play of two-minute drill. … Pat Mannelly (ACL) has returned to his long-snapping duties and is building confidence for training camp. … Sidelined were middle linebacker Brian Urlacher (knee), tight end Matt Spaeth (hamstring), receiver Johnny Knox (back), linebacker Patrick Trahan (unknown) and defensive end Thaddeus Gibson (unknown).
More good news. I think Jennings is gonna kill to keep his starting spot. Hayden has a real size advantage and I think he's done a little better at getting turnovers than Jennings. That's the real issue with him as far as Lovie is concerned. He wants those picks. That's the main advantage of that zone scheme where your playing facing the ball rather than have your back to it. The thing is no matter who wins the starters spot we have better depth than we've had for a long time too.
If Weems has the kind of speed Manning did that straight up the gut style works pretty well. He had a much higher average than Hester did a couple of years ago when he led the league. If you can open that middle at just the right time so the returner is just hitting that hole and accelerating it's off to the races. We may miss out on the big play but I'll bet we improve our starting field position.
Sounds like both Lovie and the players were happy with what they got accomplished.
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