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.”

Bears announce training camp schedule

Bears announce training camp schedule

The Bears released their official training camp schedule Thursday morning. After reporting to Olivet Nazarene on Wednesday, July 26, the first of ten practices open to the public will take place the following day. The Bears will be based out of Bourbonnais for the 16th straight season. Training camp will go through Sunday, Aug. 13 before the Bears break camp and finish the preseason in Lake Forest. 

All practices are tentatively scheduled to start at various times during the 11 a.m. hour with the exception of Saturday, Aug. 13, which starts at 12:05 p.m. Those times are subject to change based on weather, and a varying set of schedules that John Fox and his coaching staff have set up, as they adjust to player and training staff preferences in hopes of reducing injuries. 

Also, new this season, fans wanting to attend practices must order free tickets in advance through the Bears website. Fans will not be allowed in without a ticket, and the first 1,000 fans each day will be given various souvenirs. The practice campus will be open to the public with tickets from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

Here is the full training camp schedule:

After historically low turnover total in 2016, what can Bears do to get more takeaways?

After historically low turnover total in 2016, what can Bears do to get more takeaways?

Quintin Demps set a career high in interceptions last year by not doing anything different. And that’s the message he’s sending a defense that generated only 11 takeaways in 2016, tied for the lowest single-season total in NFL history. 

Demps went from picking off four passes in both 2013 with the Kansas City Chiefs and 2014 with the New York Giants to notching just one interception with the Houston Texans in 2015. In 2016, though, Demps intercepted six passes, broke up nine more and totaled 38 tackles. 

“Turnovers are like, it’s not something that you go get, it’s something you let come to you by doing your job first and then helping out,” Demps said. “And then you’d be surprised how they come to you by doing your job and being aware of when you can help somebody out. A lot of times when you get help is when you get picks and turnovers.”

The danger for a defense coming off a historically bad takeaway is sort of a whiplash effect, where there’s an over-emphasis on creating turnovers and not enough attention paid to, as Demps said, “doing your job.” There’s a fine line between being opportunistic and undisciplined.

“I tell my safeties all the time, we gotta tackle first,” Demps said. “Tackle first, don’t miss any tackles and then the picks are going to come. I promise you that.”

The Bears felt positively after signs of being more opportunistic as a defense during shorts-and-helmets practices in May and June, though if that was because of any real improvements or because the defense is usually ahead of the offense is hard to tell at this stage of the year. 

The offseason program was valuable for the Bears’ secondary in growing trust within a group that had — no pun intended — plenty of turnover after the 2016 season. The hope is that the offseason additions of Demps, Prince Amukamara, Marcus Cooper and Eddie Jackson will solidify the secondary and lead to something better than last year’s historically-low turnover total. 

“We’re still trying to build something, but the actual, real building happens in training camp because I think then you start to see the group start to get formed and yo know who’s going to go with the one’s, who’s going to go with the two’s, stuff like that,” Amukamara said. “So I think that starts to get formed. But I think with a lot of guys now, I think what that creates is competition and guys trying their hardest to make the team.”