Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
In my last post I graded the defensive line and the linebackers of this season’s team. I will finish the defense by evaluating the cornerbacks and (ugh!) safeties. Let’s be kind and start with the corners.
Last season, Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings were the best corner tandem in football. Yes, Richard Sherman and his crew in Seattle made all the noise and grabbed the attention, but the two guys in Bears uniform were ultimately better.
This season was a different story. Tillman, who had three interceptions in 2012, had as many in only eight games this season. Of course, eight games were all he made since he was put on season-ending injury reserved.
Zachary Bowman filled in for Tillman and did a fairly good job. He also had three interceptions, but he did not have the turnover prowess that Tillman had. Tillman had three forced fumbles in the games he did play, while Bowman had none.
A season removed from having nine interceptions, Tim Jennings came down to earth a bit and had four. The big plays he had last season just were not there this season. He was one of the few to avoid the injury bug, however. He played in every game, remarkable considering how players were dropping like flies all around him.
The defensive backs unit was not the source of the Bears’ defensive troubles this season. True, they could have played a little better, but considering they lost the leader of the group for half the season they did a pretty good job.
Jennings and Tillman are both free agents after this season. Jennings has already been rewarded for his play with a new 4-year contract. The decision on Tillman is a bit complicated. He will be 33 years old next season, and after 11 seasons, does he have enough left? He did say a few months back that he would either sign a contract with the Bears or retire. I think he may have to face the latter.
Oh where, oh where, do I start with the safeties? This unit was definitely the Achilles’ heel of the defense. Too many missed tackles and missed assignments led to big gains and big scores for the opponents.
After the loss to the Packers which ended the season, Major Wright was asked about his future with the Chicago Bears. “I have no clue.” Never has a response been such a good description of someone’s play on the field.
Many fans have thought the same watching Wright play. He came in from the University of Florida with great promise. A big hitter with great athletic ability. Instead, he has been a head scratcher to both the coaching staff and fans who see him constantly missing tackles or being faked out too easily.
At first, Wright’s errors were dismissed as rookie mistakes. After four seasons of the same, however, one has to think-is this just who Major Wright is?
What can be said about Chris Conte that fans have not already said. Another safety who missed tackles and missed assignments continued during the biggest game of the season. On the play that resulted in the Packers’ game-winning touchdown, it appeared that Conte was covering NO ONE and let Randall Cobb to easily pass by him and be wide open.
Head coach Marc Trestman was asked about that play and his response was telling:
"We called the defense, and if they wound up being in a spread formation, we were going to audible to an automatic, all-out blitz, and we did. Lance [Briggs] made the check and Chris [Conte] didn’t get the call. He was in zone. Everybody else was in man. That’s why you saw the back end so wide open. We miscommunicated on it obviously."
To date, I have not noticed Trestman talk about a specific player’s mistakes. He usually says “We” but in this quote he notes that Conte was the one with the blown coverage. Everyone who saw the play knew it, but coaches do not call out the player by name so that no hard feelings could resonate. In this case I think the writing is on the wall and it does not matter what Conte feels.
The Bears should see what kind of interest is out there for Wright. He is still a young player so perhaps a change of scenery would be good for him.
The fans’ ire is too high for Conte to come back. It has been building over the course of the season, and with that last mistake costing the Bears a division title and playoff berth, nothing he could do next season in a Bears uniform will help him.