Chicago Bears

Bears DB coach Ed Donatell looks to get quality from quantity

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USA TODAY

Bears DB coach Ed Donatell looks to get quality from quantity

If you check out the Bears roster right now, there are eight cornerbacks, eight safeties, and Deiondre Hall, whom they’ll try at safety but isn’t necessarily not a cornerback anymore, either.

Veteran defensive backs coach Ed Donatell was not given the supposed top cornerbacks on the free agent market, Stephon Gilmore and A.J. Bouye. But between free agency, the draft and a waiver wire pickup, he currently has six new faces in the secondary.

“I think we’ve got a group of guys that are gonna push each other and mold us into a nice unit,” Donatell said after Saturday’s Rookie Minicamp. “ It’s kind of on us to come through as a position group and when you become close as a group, that’s what we’re looking to do right now. We don’t look all the way to September, we’re looking at right now. I relish the challenge of us doing that, and it’s very doable. We have all kinds of good parts to put together, but there’s a lot of work to be done. Motivation is never a problem as a coach when you have that kind of competition.

“I love it. My biggest thing is to probe, and interview and find out what you know, who taught you. I’ll tap into all kinds of other guys’ good coaching. It’s an art, and a positive thing – not just your own stuff. Thinking off what they already know and fill in the rest. It’s an assessment, is what you do.”

And Donatell’s familiar working with new faces, and getting them to mold quickly. The evidence is in his time at San Francisco, although the 49ers had a much more star-studded front seven in front of them.

“We brought in Carlos Rogers who was a highly-drafted guy that hadn’t played to expectations. Donte Whitner was a highly-drafted guy. We brought in Perrish Cox, Tracy Porter who maybe didn’t have his hottest year the year before. They’re all different. But the guys that have success `buy in.’ And they get hitched up to what you’re doing. When they get hitched up, the probability’s very good (to have a good season).”

The proof: Rogers was a No. 9 overall pick by Washington who managed just eight interceptions in six seasons. In the first of his three seasons in San Francisco, he had six picks in 2011, when he made the Pro Bowl, and was second-team All-Pro. Cox, a fifth round pick in Denver in 2010, joined the Niners four years later and had five interceptions that fist season, after one the previous three years. And Whitner, a number eight overall pick by Buffalo in 2006, made two Pro Bowls from 2011 through 2013 with San Francisco.

Here are some quick Donatell thoughts on his secondary personnel, both new and returning:

Marcus Cooper

“He was a long press corner that we liked who was a good player at Rutgers with good size and speed. We tried to keep him (after the Niners drafted him in th seventh round) but he was taken off our practice squad. Was definitely a guy that we saw for the future. He went and got some good coaching in other places, and now he made the circle back.

“He was mature beyond his years as a young player and I’m not surprised his play spiked at his next couple places. He’s very serious about his trade and that usually leads to improvement. He was very serious. The only thing that mattered to him was football and meetings and how he’s progressing. He’s very detailed.”

Prince Amukamara

“We’ve got an experienced guy who’s played in playoff games. He’s got speed, explosion. But we start looking for career bests. So right now we’re looking to do the best things he’s done, put `em together and that’s what we’re shooting for.”

Kyle Fuller

“I expect him to get back in there and compete. The essence of it is he’s been off a full year as far as games go. So we’ve gotta get his health back, and he’s heading that way, and get him back into things.”

Cre’Von LeBlanc

“He has a lot of the things that don’t get measured. Numbers don’t measure his instincts, how he sees the ball when it’s in flight. Numbers don’t measure how tough he is. You can’t find that measuring stick. He’s a very gritty young man, and he’ll make our team better.”

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Quentin Demps

“He’s really into it. He’ll bring his veteran experience and he’s coming off his best year. We want to repeat that and maybe take it up one step. Right now, he’s on a proper path and things are very positive for him. He sees well in the deep part of the field. After the ball’s snapped, this guy can see how things are moving, through traffic and that allows him to find the ball.”

Deiondre’ Hall

“It creates versatility. It stretches him a little bit as a young guy. I like that. He was a guy that could see downfield (while playing safety at Northern Iowa), and could track the ball. I felt some good instincts from the back end of the defense going forward. He’s a developing football player. I can paint a picture of him playing corner, paint another picture of him at safety. He was a young guy that was coming on, and it’s just unfortunate (the ankle injury that sidelined him), because he could’ve gotten some great experience down the stretch.”

Eddie Jackson

“There’s versatility. When guys come into (the NFL), it’s such a pass game, a cover game, that guys with corner experience really helps. Many times you’re playing with three corners out there, with all the sets and the athletic ability of tight ends. They’re almost wide receivers. So we need guys who can cover. He’s done that. I also like the level of ball that he played. They get great training there (at Alabama). Nick Saban was a doggone DB coach and he’s still got his hands in it, so those guys come in here really trained well for this level.”

Why the Bears ‘f***ing loved’ what Jordan Howard showed them on Sunday

Why the Bears ‘f***ing loved’ what Jordan Howard showed them on Sunday

After fighting off the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense for Jordan Howard, the Bears’ offensive line still sounded as if they wanted to keep blocking for a running back who wowed them with his toughness in Sunday’s 23-17 overtime win. 

Howard, who NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported has a sprained AC joint in his shoulder, was clearly playing through pain against Pittsburgh. He was helped off the field multiple times by trainers and was trying to protect his banged-up shoulder on some of his runs in the second half. But he quickly returned to the game after those scares, which was not lost on the guys leading the way for him. 

“He’s tough,” right guard Kyle Long said, emphasizing the word tough. “And toughness is something that’s talked about in football a lot, but Jordan Howard’s tough. He really is.” 

“He’s a f***ing soldier, man,” right tackle Bobby Massie said. “He was a Pro Bowler for a reason.” 

“F***ing loved it,” left tackle Charles Leno Jr. said. “I loved it. It showed that he cared and wanted to be out there for us, and it made me go harder. I just told him that — it made me want to block for him extra hard. And when he does that and he shows that courageousness, man, comes out there and keeps battling back after we know he’s hurting, I’m going to give it everything I got for that guy.”

The Bears’ offensive line (and tight ends and wide receivers, it should be said) continually opened up lanes for Howard despite the Steelers knowing what was coming. Mike Glennon and the Bears’ passing attack didn’t stretch the field and only saw one wide receiver catch a pass (Deonte Thompson about halfway through the fourth quarter), but no matter how much the Steelers schemed to play the run, Howard kept hitting creases and getting into the second level, where he’s at his most effective. 

“He’s a tough son of a gun,” coach John Fox said. “The more you have of those, the better off you are and the better chances you have to win.”

Howard finished with 138 yards on 23 carries — an average of six yards per attempt — after only gaining 59 yards on 20 carries in his first two games of the season. His walk-off touchdown was a fitting end to This was a reminder, as Massie said, of why Howard was a Pro Bowler and the NFL’s second-leading rusher last year — even as he wasn't at 100 percent. 

“Sometimes I was hurt pretty bad,” Howard said. “I didn’t feel like I could finish. But Benny Cunningham, he kept pushing me through, and my coach, and I just saw my team – they kept fighting, so I had to keep playing.”

Under Center Podcast: Bears run strong in OT win against Steelers

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USA TODAY

Under Center Podcast: Bears run strong in OT win against Steelers

Alex Brown and Jim Miller join Laurence Holmes to break down how the Bears got themselves in the win column on Sunday against the Steelers.

Jordan Howard was the game’s MVP but how well can the Bears run the ball going forward if he is banged up and the Bears continue to struggle throwing the ball?

Plus, Marcus Cooper’s fumble on the goal line nearly cost the Bears the game. What do the guys think about the effort level after a gaffe like that – especially on a short week heading into Thursday night’s matchup against the rival Packers?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: