Today I was out cruising the Bears' internet beat, looking for news from the weekend's rookie minicamp. In the process, I came across an interesting article from Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times. Biggs was following a conversation between local reporters and Lovie Smith. Bears fans know that Smith is not one to hand out nuggets, often leaving the media to parse sparse words. Despite this, Lovie may have let one slip.
When asked about the Bears' situation at free safety, Smith listed every player on the Bears' depth chart at the position. He then followed his typical, canned response with a little something extra.
"We have all of those guys in the mix, and we still have Danieal Manning,'' Smith said. ''Look at other players. We have Corey Graham.''
Free safety is, without question, the biggest hole in the Bears' defense. It is a hole that was left unaddressed in last month's NFL Draft. Danieal Manning has been bouncing between safety and corner for the better part of his career, and the possibility of him moving again is far from earth-shattering. In fact, he is still listed at free safety on the Bears' roster. However, the idea of Corey Graham at free safety, at least from the lips of Lovie, is most certainly newsworthy.
How thin are the Bears at free safety? After the departure of veteran leader Mike Brown, the only player left on the roster who possesses both free safety experience and free safety skills is Saints' castoff Josh Bullocks. Kevin Payne is a pure strong safety. Craig Steltz is a better fit there as well. Ditto for the recently acquired Glen Earl. Danieal Manning has played the position and has the requisite athleticism, but the only place he has ever looked comfortable is at nickel corner, his current position. The coaching staff admits that converting Al Afalava to free safety could take time, and they don't appear convinced it is the best strategy. The staff is interested in trying Zack Bowman at that spot, but he doesn't have much NFL experience at any secondary position.
So as of right now, the free safety spot looks like it is Bullock's job to lose. Given his recent struggles in an awful Saints secondary, this can't be a comfortable position for Chicago.
For years, there has been campaigning amongst fans and media to move Charles Tillman to free safety. I believe that the Bears are right to keep their best cornerback at cornerback. I also believe that Tillman's shoulder troubles would only be aggravated playing center field. However, Tillman may also be the closest thing to a legitimate free safety on the roster.
Corey Graham looked a lot like a young Charles Tillman last year, and was arguably the Bears most consistent defensive back over the course of the season. So if Peanut can't move to safety, what about Peanut Jr? Clearly, Lovie Smith sees it as a possibility.
It makes a lot of sense. Graham is big enough, standing 6'0" and weighing in at 193 pounds. He is a sure tackler whose strength may have been run support. The man had 82 tackles last year at cornerback. That's fairly impressive. He isn't a true coverage guy, which means his ceiling may be higher at safety than it will ever be at corner. Graham's move would allow the Bears to get their four best defensive backs on the field; assuming Nathan Vasher can return as the Interceptor and not the injury lister.
All of this depends not only on the health of Vasher, but also the development of rookie D.J. Moore. The fact that Smith would make this statement at the end of rookie minicamp may hint at his first impression of that young corner. Bears fans will have to keep an eye on this situation, particularly when training camp opens at the end of July.