Chicago Bears: Projecting the 2015 Defensive Starters

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Kyle Fuller, CB1

Sep 22, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Chicago Bears cornerback

Kyle Fuller

(23) intercepts a pass intended for New York Jets wide receiver

David Nelson

(86) in the end zone during the third quarter at MetLife Stadium. Chicago Bears won 27-19. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Drafted 14th overall out of Virginia Tech in 2014, Kyle Fuller was added to a secondary that already featured all-time Bear great Charles Tillman and 2-time Pro-Bowler (2012, 2013) Tim Jennings.  Fuller, who was starting in place of Jennings during the preseason before an ankle injury sidelined him, was thrust back into the lineup when a triceps injury in week #2 against the 49ers ended Tillman’s memorable tenure with the Bears.

Fuller quickly won over teammates and fans alike with two interceptions of Colin Kaepernick in the 4th quarter of that huge comeback win against the 49ers, one in which they trailed 20-7 when Tillman went down.  The 49ers have beaten the Bears with regularity in recent years, having won eight in a row coming into that game, and in most cases the scores weren’t even close.  For Fuller to step up the way he did against that team in a big moment was huge.

After bursting on the scene in a major way against San Fran, Fuller’s encore performance the following week on Monday Night Football was equally impressive.  Playing against the Jets in New York, Fuller got the start and tallied another INT and two forced fumbles.

As the season went on, slowly but surely Fuller hit the rookie wall and along the way he took his share of lumps going up against stud WRs like Calvin Johnson, Jordy Nelson and Dez Bryant.  Fuller has shown he has the chops to be a top-level cornerback in the league and we’ll soon see if he can build on his rookie experience.  A lot will be expected of him in year #2.

Nov 16, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears cornerback

Tim Jennings

(26) during their game against the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Tim Jennings, Nickelback

I’m cheating a bit here including Jennings because he is expected to play prominently in the nickel role and therefore won’t be a true starter, but he’ll be on the field plenty and my belief is that he is still the second-best cornerback on the team despite the offseason additions at the position.  Jennings had a down year in 2014, but there are few on the defense who didn’t.

Jennings has shown he can match up against taller receivers and hold his own, but his size (5’8″) makes him better suited to match up against slot guys.  When playing well, Jennings is an aggressive corner who is tough against the run and has reliable tackling skills. Those traits figure to go over well with the new coaching staff as they figure out how best to utilize the talent on the roster.

Jennings should also benefit from a full training camp & preseason at the nickel position heading into 2015.  Nickel was the plan for Jennings in 2014, but Fuller’s ankle injury in preseason forced him back into his familiar LCB spot and then Tillman’s season-ender solidified the shift.

Alan Ball, CB2

Aug 14, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback

Alan Ball

(23) during the first quarter of the preseason game at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The guy who I think will be lining up opposite Kyle Fuller in the Bears base package is Alan Ball.  Drafted by the Cowboys in the 7th round in of the 2007 Draft, Ball spent his first four years in the league with Dallas playing cornerback and free safety.  Ball then was with Houston in 2012 where he played mostly special teams before moving on to Jacksonville in 2013, where he earned a starting cornerback role.

Ball had one of the better years of his career in 2013 with the Jaguars, tallying 41 tackles with 2 INTs and 14 passes defended.  In 2014 he was on pace for similar numbers before a biceps injury ended his season in week #7.  The Jaguars decided to let him walk and the Bears signed him to a one-year deal.

Ball has the physicality to play press man coverage in a way that maybe no other corner on the roster does.  He’s a tough midwest guy who should fit well with the Chicago fans and within Fangio’s defense.  While Ball isn’t exactly a ballhawk, toughness has a tendency to make up where other attributes may be lacking.  If you’ve watched this Bears team play defense at all in the last couple of years, you know they need that.

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