Bears' safety situation in flux
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Things change quickly and frequently for the Bears at safety.
Just ask Danieal Manning.
Manning's movements within the secondary are well documented. Since entering the league in 2006, the former second-round selection has seen action at free safety, strong safety, cornerback and nickelback. He spent the entire offseason focusing on strong safety, opening camp on the first team with veteran Chris Harris playing free safety.
The first blip on the radar occurred when Manning injured his hamstring a few days ago, forcing the versatile defensive back to miss a couple practices.
"It happened a few days ago," Manning said. "I just felt the hamstring get tight, so I went up to the trainers and we decided to play it safe."
And for good reason.
A similar hamstring problem caused Manning chronic problems last summer, eventually costing him the starting free safety job in Week 1 versus the Packers. Manning eventually returned to the starting lineup the following game against Pittsburgh, but that incident at last year’s training camp sticks with him to this day.
"I thought about last year when it happened," Manning said. "I knew I had to be smart. Last year, I hurt myself, tried to come back the next day, and I kept going back and forth like a see-saw. I don't want to do that again.
"I'd rather be healthy, start over and work my way up the ladder again. It's something that's been happening for the last two years, and I don't like it. Not one bit. But I'd rather be healthy instead of going out there too soon, and then ending up hurting myself worse."
After testing out the hamstring in individual drills Tuesday night, Manning received a handful of team reps Wednesday, rotating in with rookie Major Wright.
The Bears could again face a dilemma at the safety position. It's no secret how impressed the coaching staff is with Wright, who brings a physical style of play to the defense.
Harris' strength is leadership and knowledge of the defense, two things the Bears desperately need to stabilize the secondary. After a somewhat slow start to camp, Harris turned it on during Wednesday's practice, intercepting a pair of passes and breaking up a few others.
The club’s plans remain unclear concerning the starting safety combination when the Bears open the regular season, but it certainly seems like Manning's temporary absence opened the door slightly for Wright.
"The depth chart will mean a little bit more after this game when we see the guys in game situations," Bears coach Lovie Smith said.
That statement definitely rings true at safety.
Camp weather report
Heat index: 98
Camp battle focus: linebacker
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhTim Shaw is trying to make the most of his chances.
“Competition?” Shaw asks, laughing. “What competition?”
But in all seriousness, Shaw could face an uphill climb toward earning a role in the Bears linebacking corps, which is arguably the deepest position on the team. Brian Urlacher, and Lance Briggs are entrenched as starters, while Pisa Tinoisamoa and Nick Roach battle it out for the remaining starting job on the strong side. Shaw is listed behind Tinoisamoa and Roach on the unofficial depth chart the club released on Monday.
“All I do is try to make the best of every opportunity that I get. So I’m just working hard to learn as much as I can and take advantage of all the reps that I get,” Shaw said.
While a defined role at linebacker might be out of Shaw’s reach headed into the upcoming season, he’ll likely be counted upon to contribute heavily on special teams. Signed during Week 2 of last season, Shaw led the Bears with 30 special-teams tackles, which ranks as the most in the club’s history since it started officially recording the statistic in 1995.
Shaw has played in 32 games with the Bears, Panthers and Jaguars, tallying 47 tackles on special teams.
“Camp’s going well, man. I’m definitely getting better; learning and definitely improving,” Shaw said. “I’m having a good time, too, despite this heat.”
Bears quarterbacks Jay Cutler, Caleb Hanie and Dan LeFevour combined to complete 20 of 24 passes during 7-on-7 drills. The first two incomplete passes during the drill were the result of dropped passes by tight end Richard Angulo and running back Garrett Wolfe. Angulo’s drop resulted in an interception for Al Afalava.
Safety Josh Bullocks intercepted a LeFevour pass that was tipped twice. Corey Graham first tipped the pass, which ricocheted toward Freddie Barnes. As Barnes attempted to catch it, Bullocks snatched it from his hands before running up the sideline.
Chris Harris produced arguably his best day of training camp thus far. Harris scored an interception off Cutler and a break up on consecutive pass plays during team drills. Harris broke up another pass -- nearly intercepting it -- toward the end of practice.
Linebackers Hunter Hillenmeyer (ankle), Tinoisamoa (rest), and Brian Iwuh (knee) didn’t participate in Wednesday’s practice, along with running backs Harvey Unga (hamstring) and Kahlil Bell (hamstring). Receiver Greg Mathews (shoulder) was also held out of practice, in addition to tight end Kellen Davis (back) and cornerback Tim Jennings (knee).