Cornerbacks Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman and safeties Chris Conte and Major Wright remain the fixtures in a veteran secondary. But questions also remain at depth beyond those four.
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Isaiah Frey had a tackle and almost an interception against Carolina in his first real audition for the No. 1 nickelback. Sherrick McManis had three tackles besides forcing and recovering a fumble.
“It felt a lot slower this year for me,” said Frey, a sixth-round pick in 2012 who spent the year on practice squad. “I know the defense a lot better so that helped it slow down for me.”
In an NFL with 58 percent pass plays, the third cornerback has become virtually a 12th starter. Working against San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers will help sort out whether Frey is the nickelback or McManis is the third corner and perhaps Jennings slides inside as the nickelback.
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“As a coach, your job is to teach, motivate and develop and then find the best guys, the guys that give you the best chance and put them out there,” said defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. “That’s the process we’re in right now. The roles will be defined, who’s going to do what for us, but the experience level at some point, you’re going to have to play younger players and that’s not necessarily going to be a negative deal.”
Behind Conte and Wright, Craig Steltz and Anthony Walters are the No. 2’s, with Brandon Hardin still playing catch-up after two years off with injuries and now switching from college cornerback to NFL safety.
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The Bears played last season with four safeties. Hardin will need strong play on special teams to squeeze into a fifth spot.