Mullin's 2011 draft capsules: Cornerback

Mullin's 2011 draft capsules: Cornerback

Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Posted: 2:24 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Seventh in a series

The defense had three players with four or more interceptions last season, the first time for that in a quarter-century and the only secondary with that distinction in 2010. The interception total jumped from 10 in 2009 to 16, and the Bears interception percentage ranked eighth in the NFL.

But passing yards per game allowed was 20th and there are issues looming in a key area of the Lovie Smith defensive scheme.
The Bears

The investment of a third-round pick last draft in Major Wright should take care of one safety spot for some years, and Chris Harris veteran presence was a positive at age 29. But Danieal Manning is intent on testing free agency after his best season and Craig Steltz was disappointing after having his best offseason, so starter-grade depth is missing at safety.

The bigger concern is cornerback, where Charles Tillman turns 30 after a high-impact career that saw him play 16 games for the first time since his rookie year. Zackary Bowman was given Tillmans LCB job but promptly lost it to Tim Jennings early in the year. Joshua Moore is a wild-card, a fifth-rounder last season who barely played but is considered to have real upside.

D.J. Moore justified Lovie Smiths belief in him and secured the nickel-back spot. But the falloff of Nathan Vasher over recent seasons set the defensive plan back substantially and the quest is on for a starting corner in an NFC North with Calvin Johnson in Detroit and a cluster of receiving talent in Green Bay.

Need: The Bears addressed cornerback with picks in a third round (Roosevelt Williams, 2002), second round (Tillman, 2003) and fourth round (Vasher, 2004). Since then only Moore (fourth round, 2009) came sooner than the fifth round. That is likely to change this year and could be a surprise first-round pick depending on the fall of the selections.

The 2011 draft

Two cornerbacks are expected to go inside the first 15 picks and then there are few sure things for various reasons. Chances of landing an immediate starter lower than the first 40 picks are doubtful but different systems require different player-types and at least one or two will be prime fits for the Bears.

Even Patrick Peterson out of LSU, the consensus top defensive back in the draft, comes with fit questions. Hes most comfortable in press-man, said NFL.com draft analyst Mike Mayock. If you try to play him in off-man hes going to struggle a little bit.

Pro Football Weeklys Nolan Nawrocki projects Prince Amukamara from Nebraska going No. 11 to the Houston Texans and new coordinator Wade Phillips. Nawrocki also shows Colorados Jimmy Smith coming off the board No. 13 to the Detroit Lions, who, like the Bears, have some matchup problems to overcome in the NFC North.
The Best Bets:

(CSNChicago.com is taking Peterson and Prince Amukamara from Nebraska off the board far ahead of the Bears turn at No. 29.)
1. Aaron Williams, Texas Some mock drafts have the Bears taking Williams after the OLDL value is gone ahead of them. Williams has started at three DB spots and brings Tillman-like size (5-11, 204) to the CB spot.

2. Jimmy Smith, Colorado Some concerns about consistency but that applies to many, many collegians. Had some off-field issues but at 6-2, he is the physical prototype of the big corner.

3. Brandon Harris, Miami Size is a question after Harris measured sub-5-10 but has run 4.4 at 191 pounds and can play both cornerback and safety.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Bears camp shorts: Jay Cutler pick-free, QB's running, 'free hugs'

Bears camp shorts: Jay Cutler pick-free, QB's running, 'free hugs'

BOURBONNAIS — During a “team” session in Wednesday’s first practice of Bears 2016 training camp, cornerback Tracy Porter made a perfect break on a route by wide receiver Eddie Royal. The defensive back battled Royal for the ball, which then fell incomplete.

It was as close as anyone on the defense came to intercepting a Jay Cutler pass.

That wouldn’t really command much attention were it not that Cutler opened camp last year going 11 practices before throwing an interception in a drill, 7-on-7 or full-team session. It proved a foreshadowing of perhaps the single most important step forward by Cutler.

Obviously this is practice; it doesn’t count any more than preseason games do. But to dismiss any step toward ball security as insignificant is perspective-lite. The Bears track practice stats as part of their analytics for a reason, and “you play the way you practice” is a bromide of long standing for a reason. Had Cutler been throwing multiple picks every practice, the hand-wringing would have been epic.

[MORE: Kevin White not looking like a rookie as Bears open training camp]

Cutler did follow his improved ball-security camp by opening the season throwing interceptions in his first two games. Against Green Bay. Against Arizona. Against the No. 7 and No. 3 interception defenses in the NFL last year. He eventually threw four interceptions over his first six games — tying the lowest pick number through the first six games of any year in his 10-year career. The other year he had just four was 2011 — the year Cutler posted the best interception percentage (2.2) of his career. Last season was his second-best (2.3).

Reducing Cutler’s interceptions was THE primary specific targeted by Adam Gase and Dowell Loggains last offseason. What began in training camp carried over into the season.

- Jeremy Langford was haunted by a couple of costly pass drops last season, and improved receiving was a priority all offseason for the second-year running back. On Wednesday he consistently showed excellent receiving skills, wresting one catch away from linebacker Danny Trevathan.

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016 season, Bears fans!

- Rookie Cody Whitehair stepped in at left guard with the No. 1 unit while Ted Larsen was dealing with a calf injury. On Wednesday, Larsen and Whitehair each were working at both guard and center as the Bears develop both versatility and competition levels at the interior-line spots….

- The Bears won’t be running heavy doses of read-options but that isn’t exempting quarterbacks from working on their running techniques along with backs and receivers, cutting, running and being buffeted by blocking dummies under the vociferous directions of running backs coach Stan Drayton.

- Think a little courtesy doesn’t help? A young boy stood along the ropes on Wednesday holding up a large sign, “Free hugs 4 Bears.” Yes, he did give out a couple of hugs and got some autographs and smiles in return.

Kevin White not looking like a rookie as Bears open training camp

Kevin White not looking like a rookie as Bears open training camp

BOURBONNAIS — Call it a linebacker’s worst nightmare. Twice.

First it was outside linebacker Lamarr Houston, who found himself with wide receiver Kevin White on a pass route that made the wideout — he of 4.35 speed in the 40 — the coverage responsibility of a 274-pound defender whose specialty is going after quarterbacks.

White streaked away from Houston and caught Jay Cutler’s pass for a win for the offense.

Two snaps later it was inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman, whose first NFL interception was of a Cutler pass while Freeman was a member of the Indianapolis Colts, and who suddenly became the latest Bear defender to understand that with White, “if he’s even, he’s leavin’." To his credit, Freeman never lost sight of White, but neither was the overmatched linebacker more than a minor annoyance on the route that ended with another completion from Cutler.

“You know I think having our receivers out there healthy and able to practice, whether it’s Kevin or Alshon [Jeffery] or even Eddie Royal,” head coach John Fox said. “I think you feel the difference when they are out there playing.”

[MORE: Rough first camp day for Kyle Long, Bears No. 1 draft pick Leonard Floyd]

(Motion seconded by Messrs. Houston, Freeman.)

White was not done looking like anything but an inexperienced young player who’d missed his rookie season and virtually all of training camp with a stress fracture to his left leg. He made a twisting grab of another Cutler toss in the 7-on-7 drill, and later worked himself open on a broken play, making a sliding catch to save a pass from Cutler on the run.

Cutler and White spent time together in the offseason, away from football, and one result is the receiver understanding what his quarterback needs and demands.

“If he wants me at 9 yards, at 10 yards, come back down the line or run back to him, that’s what I have to do,” White said. “We’re continuing to do that.”

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016 season, Bears fans!

White was practicing late last season before the Bears opted to leave him shut down after their season all but ended with the disappointing losses to San Francisco and Washington. The lost season set him behind on his learning curve, particularly given his relative inexperience playing at the highest level at West Virginia.

But the Bears also gave White’s injury time to heal rather than rush their No. 7-overall draft choice onto the field. The time off allowed more than just the stress-fracture surgery to mend.

“I had a whole year to recover, mentally and physically,” White said. “If we’d had had this talk last year, it would have mentally been a little rough as far as getting on my routes and trying not to run with a limp. And obviously taking a hit.

“But I’ve had a whole year to get it right. I thank the organization for giving me the time, and so I’m ready mentally and physically.”

Rough first camp day for Kyle Long, Bears No. 1 draft pick Leonard Floyd

Rough first camp day for Kyle Long, Bears No. 1 draft pick Leonard Floyd

BOURBONNAIS — The first day of 2016 Bears training camp was one with players not in full pads as the team eases players into the rigors of the most intense practice stretch of the football year. “No pads” may suggest less grueling, but Thursday saw the Bears finish practice with two of their last four No. 1’s departing early with health issues, even as last year’s top pick was finally back on the field where his rookie season effectively was closed out.

Outside linebacker Leonard Floyd left practice early on a trainer’s cart, while guard Kyle Long finished his day in a walking boot. Neither situation was initially considered dire, but both were in disappointing contrast to the excellent first day of wide receiver Kevin White, whose 2015 season had ended with a stress fracture in his left leg.

[MORE: Bears' first round pick Leonard Floyd leaves practice with illness]

The feeling that swept over the practice fields on the Bears’ first day of practice in Bourbonnais was a mixture of shock and disbelief: Floyd, the Bears’ No. 1 draft choice, was leaving the field on a cart, typically one of the more ominous ways a player can exit a field. After Kevin White’s season was lost last year to a stress fracture suffered in practice even before training camp, the prospect of another Bears No. 1 pick going down before even a first practice in pads was one scenario that organization could hardly have contemplated.

Fortunately, Floyd was down with what he described as a “stomach bug” that had bothered him earlier in the week, and the rookie was expected to be practicing on Friday — subject to trainers’ OK.

“I’m feeling good right now,” said Floyd, who had tried to talk his way back onto the field initially. “What happened today was I’ve been a little under the weather the past couple of days and the trainers knew that. They told me to go out and give it a shot today and then they shut me down.

“I really was begging them to let me go back out there. They told me to shut it down and shut it down tomorrow. I’m basically just trying to get back healthy and get back out there ... because I don’t like to sit out. They recommended that I take it easy today. They didn’t want me to injure myself further.”

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016 season, Bears fans!

Long left practice late with a calf issue, according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport.

Long has started since day one as a rookie in 2013 and missed only one game over the span of three NFL seasons, all ending with his selection to the Pro Bowl.