There are high expectations for improvement of the Bears secondary in the second year of Vic Fangio’s defense.
After a day’s worth of training camp practice on August 1, Bears head coach John Fox stepped in front of the media for a short presser. Fox detailed the injury report, then fielded a question about second year safety Adrian Amos’ development.
But, before he started talking about the safety out of Penn State, he began his answer talking about another: Amos’ counterpart, Harold Jones-Quartey, before addressing the development of both safeties.
“Both those guys are young guys that found their way,” Fox said. “They know our system. They understand the football in the NFL a lot better.”
The Bears secondary is entering a pivotal year. Barring injury or demotion, this will be the first full year the secondary will play together as starters while also being the second full year they’ll be in defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s defense. These starters have all, in their own way, unconventionally found their way into the starting lineup, begging more comparisons to an island of misfit toys rather than an actual NFL secondary.
But, who makes up the Chicago Bears starting secondary?
Currently, starting at cornerback are Tracy Porter, a starter in New Orleans turned journeyman who is looking to revive his career in Chicago, and Kyle Fuller, a first round draft pick vying to live up to his potential after a disappointing and injury-riddled sophomore year.
“[Fuller] can just learn from the things he didn’t do well last year and continue to build on the things that he did well,” Porter told reporters July 30. “He knows I’m here to help him with whatever he needs and I’m going to continue to help him. But, as a player, as a competitor in his self, he’s definitely eager to leap into this year and be an even better player.
Behind them are Amos and Jones-Quartey, two second year safeties who played extensively as rookies, but have to prove they’re worth their starting roles.
In the grand scheme of things, at least Porter and Fuller had NFL experience. Amos and Jones-Quartey, a fifth round draft pick and an undrafted free agent, respectively, were thrown into the fire; Amos claimed the starting job in training camp, while Jones-Quartey got his shot when veteran safety Antrel Rolle went down with an injury.
The two, along with the rest of the secondary, were tasked with defending the likes of the NFC North. This included foes such as Aaron Rodgers, Randall Cobb, Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford, Teddy Bridgewater and Cordarrelle Patterson. Now, with both safeties entering their second year, Amos said the more the secondary plays together the better they will be.
“Its another year in the system,” Amos told reporters after camp practice June 31. “We’re closer and were just working together. As we continue to work together, we’ll get a lot faster … because we’ll know what each other is thinking.”
Statistical improvement is one way to measure how the Bears secondary will fare this season, and in order to compare, you have to take a glance at last season’s statistics.
In 16 games, the Bears grabbed eight interceptions. Putting that in some perspective, those eight interceptions tied for 30th in the NFL for team interceptions, while two players, Reggie Nelson and Marcus Peters, grabbed eight picks individually.
While interceptions aren’t everything, it’s interesting when you pair the dismal interception numbers with the other defensive stats: as a defense, the Bears allowed an average of 224.6 passing yards per game, fourth-best in the NFL, but allowed 31 passing touchdowns, tied for fifth-worst. This means, in a passing league, the Bears secondary doesn’t yield a ton of yardage. But, they have a knack for giving up scores, breaking down in the back end of the secondary and allowing the big play.
Take for example, the Bears game against the San Francisco 49ers; Blaine Gabbert threw for 196 yards against the Bears. However, 71 of those yards came on a game winning score in overtime in which Porter and Amos were burned worse than Floridians who forgot sunscreen. That touchdown was one of 12 passing scores of over 20 yards allowed in 2015.
Simply put, the Bears need to learn how seal the back end.
Of course, that comes with practice, preparation and something that Porter has been preaching all last year.
“That back end is all about communication; you can’t be in the right place at the right time if you don’t communicate,” Porter said. “I said that a ton last year, I know you guys were probably sick of me saying ‘communication,’ but that’s the biggest key to having a good secondary.”
While the secondary might already have its hands full trying to avoid a second year slump, first, they’ll have to find their way out of training camp intact.
“That back end is all about communication; you can’t be in the right place at the right time if you don’t communicate.” – Bears CB Tracy Porter
Although Jones-Quartey, Amos and Fuller have been taking first team reps on defense since training camp has opened, there’s been a glaring elephant in the room. That elephant is the fact Bears general manager Ryan Pace selected three defensive backs, two of them being safeties, in the NFL draft.
Deiondre’ Hall, a lanky but rangy corner out of Northern Iowa, Deon Bush, a disruptive safety from Miami (FL), and DeAndre Houston-Carson, a safety as intelligent as he is aggressive from William and Mary, all plan to carve out their place somewhere on the Bears.
If Jones-Quartey or Amos falter in their positions, Bush or Houston-Carson may push them for their starting spot by shining in the preseason. The same goes for Fuller; if he fails to live up to his billing as a first rounder, Hall, or even veteran corners Bryce Callahan and Sherrick McManis, could be given a shot in his stead.
As Fox displayed last year, the Bears have no issue with starting rookies in the secondary, but that’s only if the aforementioned starters struggle. Unfortunately, they’ll have three very quick tests waiting for them right out of the gate.
The first three quarterbacks the team faces are Brock Osweiler, either Sam Bradford or Carson Wentz and Tony Romo. While Romo is the only household name out of that group, the wide receivers opposite the Bears only get better. Houston touts speed demons DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller, Philadelphia raises the up-and-coming Jordan Matthews and Dallas tops all with their trump card of Dez Bryant.
More from Bear Goggles On
- Franchise tag and transition tag windows open for Chicago Bears and NFL
- How the Chicago Bears can control the running back market in 2023
- The Chicago Bears can own the city of Chicago moving forward
- Chicago Bears NFL Combine Preview: Quarterback
- 7 best free agent tackle options for Chicago Bears
However, if the secondary can perform relatively well, and they very well could overachieve in those three games, there’s a sea of young and underachieving QBs waiting in the rest of the schedule.
NFC North aside, the Bears will also face Blake Bortles, Colin Kapernick, Eli Manning, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota and Kirk Cousins. Bortles, Winston and Mariota are all talented youths, but they also have yet to find consistent success. Manning, Cousins and Kapernick are also known to be interception-prone QBs.
Still, it’s moot to look that far ahead into the year considering the many things which could happen. The only thing the Bears can do for their secondary now is to nail down the starters. Amos, whose improvement will not only keep him in the backfield but better the defense, says he’s “trying to [improve] every area of my game.”
“From [stopping the run], to playing the deep half as a defense,” Amos said. “Me, personally, I want to create more turnovers. Just putting myself in positions to make plays on the ball.”
Jones-Quartey has also grown into his safety spot, becoming more comfortable next to Amos, something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by Porter.
“He’s become more comfortable with the position, which makes me more comfortable as a corner,” Porter said. “He’s real confident in the calls that he’s making, and I have confidence in him as well as I have in Adrian Amos, too.”
As training camp heads into its final days, the secondary will be preparing for a season where everything’s on the line; not just starting jobs, but the chance for NFL futures for all on the island of misfit toys.