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Friday, May 15, 2009
1-on-1 with Danieal Manning

The upcoming 2009 season is shaping up to be a pivotal one in Danieal Manning's professional career.

Not only does Manning have legitimate Pro Bowl aspirations as a return man, but he's also looking to solidify his role as the Bears' starting nickel back.

"I'm trusted with that position," Manning told on Friday. "I'm sure coach [Lovie] Smith could've made the decision not to have me in that position if he didn't think I could play it. Now I have to do my part, make plays and try to be a dominant player."

Danieal Manning
Danieal Manning
Not easy when playing nickel. The position carries with it an enormous amount of responsibility and difficulty. The learning curve was made even steeper for Manning, who started his first two years at free safety, and admits to some reluctance on his part to embrace the opportunity initially.

"I had to get a further understanding about my role on this team," said Manning. "Playing nickel, you're in that mindset that you're not going to play as many snaps as the starting safety. So I was struggling with that. But once I accepted my role, the process of learning nickel came easier. Plus, the way these schemes are in the NFL, nickel is a big part of the defense. If that's the way I can best contribute to the team, that's what I'm going to. That mindset hasn't changed since the day I got here."

Working daily with Smith has certainly paid dividends for Manning, who also credits new secondary coach Jon Hoke for helping refine his game this off-season.

"He's going to get after you and pull out the best in you," Manning said of Hoke. "It's like having another head coach on the field. He just loves working with the guys. Coach Hoke will stay after late and get you to study film with him. I mean we're doing this before the season's even started. Plus, he comes in here with a winning attitude. It's great."

However, it was Manning's play on special teams last year that left the biggest impression on Bears' fans. Taking over kickoff return duties late in the season, Manning put up outstanding numbers in that abbreviated stint. In just 36 attempts, Manning had 7 returns of 40 or more yards, which tied for most in the NFL. While it's natural to speculate what Manning can accomplish in a full season, he expects the league to try and keep pace.

"It's always different because the rules have changed and you have to adjust on that," said Manning. "But I definitely think we'll have a great season in the kick return department. The whole special teams unit is great. Most of these guys are veterans and we brought in some new additions that add some speed and depth."

The wildcard in this whole equation for Manning is his contract. If a new collective bargaining agreement is ratified, Manning will be an unrestricted free agent after the season. Otherwise, if 2010 is played without a salary cap, he'll be a restricted free agent. A big difference, but something Manning says is simply out of his control.

"The first time I signed with [agent] Russel [Hicks], I told him we have two offices, I'm the professional player and you're the professional agent," said Manning. "I don't come into your office telling you how to work and you shouldn't tell me how to work in my office. That's why we haven't even discussed anything like [a new contract]. Of course you think about it, but I never tell my agent how to do his job. I just play ball. That's my only focus."