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:
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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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“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.”
“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.”
“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.”