Chicago Bears 2015 Position Preview: Cornerback

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Tim Jennings

Despite what was considered a poor season from Jennings, he still graded out as the 25th best starting corner (out of 64) according to Pro Football Focus. Part of the reason for the negative perception of Jennings 2014 campaign stems from the fact that he failed to generate any interceptions after 13 the previous two seasons. Jennings was expected to play the slot corner position last year, but an early injury to Charles Tillman pushed him back outside where he stayed all year. There is talk about moving Jennings inside again despite his resistance to the role. Jennings is 31 and just his 2nd year into a 4-year, $22.5M deal, so he should be happy to have any role at all if he wants to stick around for the rest of that contract.

Jennings is much smaller than DC Fangio prefers at the corner position, but he has made the Pro Bowl in two of the last 3 seasons, so the the talent should still be there for Jennings to at least earn the starting slot position. Demontre Hurst played well in the slot down the stretch and should push Jennings hard for the role.

Demontre Hurst

Hurst went undrafted in 2013 despite a solid career at Oklahoma and was signed to the Bears practice squad where he spent his rookie season.  He made the Bears opening day roster last season and ended the year as their primary slot corner. When the Bears released Isaiah Frey after week 5, Hurst moved into the lineup as the slot corner and held his own. His aggressiveness in the secondary was a welcome addition to the Bears defense as was his willingness to contribute in run support. Hurst finished the season with 39 tackles, 1 INT, and 1 forced fumble. His season grade from Pro Football Focus was -1.8 which was good for 51st overall among the 108 corners who played at least 25% of their team’s defensive snaps.

Hurst was the Bears slot corner for the last third of the season and showed flashes of competence with positive grades in five of his last seven games. Hurst diagnoses plays quickly, breaks on the ball well and is very aggressive in run support. He’s small (5’10) and doesn’t have great hands, but his unusually long arms and 37″ vertical help make up for his lack of height. The Bears didn’t allow him to blitz much, but he showed good instincts and timing when he did and Hurst could be a lot more active rushing the passer in Fangio’s scheme. He will most likely battle veteran Tim Jennings for the starting slot corner role in 2015.

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Tracy Porter

The Bears signed Porter this week to add some veteran depth to a very young secondary. Porter, who will be 29 this season, was projected to be the Redskins starting slot corner after signing a 2-year, $6M deal before the 2014 season. He only ended up playing 3 games due to multiple injuries and the Skins released Porter a few weeks ago to free up cap room.

The former 2nd round pick out of Indiana in 2008 spent his first four seasons with the Saints as their starting right corner and is perhaps best known for intercepting a Peyton Manning pass and returning it 74-yards for a TD that helped seal the Saints win in Super Bowl XLIV. Porter (5’11 | 185) earned positive grades from Pro Football Focus in his first three years as the Saints starting corner, but his play slipped in 2011 and he has bounced around the league since with one year stops in Denver, Oakland and Washington. He will most likely compete for snaps at the slot corner position with Jennings and Hurst.

Al Louis-Jean

With almost no college experience I’m sure the Bears were planning on stashing Louis-Jean on the practice squad last year to develop his coverage skills, but the release of Isaiah Frey and injuries to Tillman, Hurst, and Jennings depleted the Bears secondary. After a few snaps in week 6, Louis-Jean was elevated to slot corner for the Bears week 8 match-up with the Patriots due to a Tim Jennings injury. It was a long day for Louis-Jean as he was repeatedly picked on by Tom Brady and gave up 7 catches for 87 yards and a touchdown. He bounced back with a strong performance in week 12, giving up only 1 catch against the Bucs in 38 defensive snaps.

New Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio preferred tall aggressive corners in his time with the 49ers and Louis-Jean seems like a perfect fit for his coverage scheme which uses a mix of press and zone coverages. Louis-Jean is only 21 and still raw, but has great size (6’1 | 187) and the talent to eventually become a solid contributor on the outside. ALJ should see some snaps this year and how fast he develops will determine how many.