Vic Fangio

Showing physicality and throwing a thousand balls: Where does the Bears' safety battle stand?

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AP

Showing physicality and throwing a thousand balls: Where does the Bears' safety battle stand?

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — For Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos, the things they need to show during training camp to win a starting job in Week 1 are different and clear. 

Jackson needs to prove he can be a physical tackler, a common ding to his game coming out of Alabama. And Amos needs to prove his ball skills have improved after not recording a single interception his first two years in the NFL. 

The Bears’ competition to start alongside Quintin Demps at safety isn’t limited to just Jackson and Amos, of course. Also part of that battle: Deon Bush, Harold Jones-Quartey, Chris Prosinski, Deandre Houston-Carson and Deiondre’ Hall. But Jackson (the rangy fourth-round pick who played with Pro Bowlers Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix and Landon Collins in Tuscaloosa) and Amos (the third-year pro with 30 career starts) are the headliners of the competition so far. 

“You’ve got to earn your spot, earn your keep,” Amos said. “There’s so many good players. It’s probably better that this year there’s a lot more competition. That just shows we’ll have a lot of depth coming forward this year.”

Jackson has flashed early in camp, picking off a handful of passes and showing the strong ball skills that led to nine interceptions during his four years at Alabama. Those have been promising for the 6-foot, 174 pound Jackson, given that his senior year ended last October when he fractured his leg against Tennessee. 

“Battling back and seeing, all right, I come back out, I still make plays on the ball — It’s just something fun,” Jackson said. “And just to see the guys, how they react to it and how the coaches react to a turnover here is just big.”

But similar to the Bears’ other fourth-round pick — running back Tarik Cohen — the bigger test for Jackson will come when the Bears begin preseason play on Thursday against the Denver Broncos. That’ll be Jackson’s first chance to truly let loose and show that he can be more physical than he was in college.  

“We’ll just have to see him tackle,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “We can’t afford to have anyone out there that can’t tackle, so tackling will be a determinant factor for him.”

“I just got to come here, be real physical and that’s something I can say I’ve really been working day in and day-out at practice, especially since pads come on,” Jackson said. “Everyone’s been taking notice.” 

Amos, on the other hand, has been a serviceable starter but hasn’t shown good ball skills. To put his interception drought another way: He’s played over 1,800 snaps with the Bears and hasn’t picked off a pass. 

For a defense that only had 11 takeaways, Amos’ lack of interceptions and ball skills is a glaring problem. So what can Bears coaches do?

“Just throw him a thousand balls,” Fangio said. “Throw him a thousand balls that are realistic, not just playing catch. Breaking off the deep zone and breaking to the sideline and catching the ball. Breaking on an inside cut. Just trying to throw him as many balls as possible that are realistic. Playing catch isn’t going to get it done. You’ve got to make it football like during the game.”

What you need to know from Bears camp: Kevin White impresses Victor Cruz

What you need to know from Bears camp: Kevin White impresses Victor Cruz

1. It wasn't much of a practice: Just as the Bears were completing pre-practice stretching on the campus' southeast practice field, weather warning sirens went off.  The Bears went indoors to Olivet Nazarane's athletic complex, shoulder pads came off and the team went into walk-through mode, which was supposed to be Friday, when the Bears will now have a longer practice. Unfortunately for the fans who traveled Thursday, Friday's practice will remain closed to the public. It's the first time in this camp there was a cancellation due to Mother Nature.

2. A corner is back: Prince Amukamara was back a day after the cornerback's wife had emergency surgery, and she came out okay.  "She's a trooper. It's funny because the night before she was telling me her stomach hurts, and I told her one of my teammates (Markus Wheaton) had the same thing and they had to take his appendix out.  She said if it still feels that way, she's going to the ER and she would end up getting operated on (like Wheaton, an appendectomy)." Wheaton told NFL Network's Stacey Dales he expects to only miss two weeks after surgery early Sunday morning.

3. Long's road back continues: With Josh Sitton returning to practice Wednesday, Kyle Long was on the basketball floor for the walk-through as we slowly works his way back from ankle surgery. That means the projected starting offensive line was intact for the first time this summer. "Kyle's taking it a day at a time, getting moire comfortable with that ankle" said John Fox. "It's kind of like lifting weights after time off, you're a little sore. He's on target and we're pleased with his progress."

4. Game Anxious: Talking with some players the last couple of days, we've reached the one week point in camp, and you sense they can't wait for another week to pass to line up in the preseason opener next Thursday at Soldier Field versus Denver. But they still have to get through practices Friday, Saturday (at Soldier Field), Monday and Tuesday before they can go after an opponent.

5. Cruz on Kev: A day after some miscommunication or misperception crawled out of the wide receiver room in how Kevin White's viewing of his college tape was portrayed, Victor Cruz was asked a couple of times about White's ability to block out the so-called outside noise and channel his focus. Cruz insisted he's impressed by how White goes about his work and knows White's feeling about two injury-plagued seasons all too well. While White has been healthy enough for just four games his first two seasons, Cruz was limited to six games in 2014 and 2015 because of calf and knee injuries.

6. Cooperating coordinators: Friday marks the first time the media will have a chance to talk with Coordinators Vic Fangio, Dowell Loggains and Jeff Rodgers since rookie minicamp in May.

Without Lamarr Houston, Bears have a problem

Without Lamarr Houston, Bears have a problem

On the first day of training camp, before the Bears even took the field for practice in Bourbonnais, Pernell McPhee was placed on the physically unable to perform list. Just two days later, we learned the self-proclaimed “violent” outside linebacker who was supposed to be the prized free agent signing of Ryan Pace’s first offseason as Bears GM, had arthroscopic surgery to “clean out” whatever had built up in his right knee between reporting day and minicamp in June. That came after offseason labrum surgery. Which came after surgery on his left knee last offseason.

A presumably healthier McPhee was coming back, stud edge rusher of the future Leonard Floyd was expected to make a leap in his second season, and Willie Young and his 24 sacks in three years with the Bears were returning.  So some believed Lamarr Houston and his nearly $7 million cap figure, which jumps to almost $9 million in the fifth and final season of his deal in 2018, were expendable. After the McPhee news this week, sometimes the best move is the one you don’t make. The Bears weren’t pushed against the salary cap, so they didn’t have to cut him loose. Good thing they didn’t. Houston heard the rumors and speculation, but didn’t pay much attention.

“No, I’m not worried about that,” the seven-year veteran said after Friday’s practice in Bourbonnais. “In the NFL, there’s 31 other teams. If it doesn’t work out for one team, I’m sure there’s something else that’ll happen.”

Houston’s been in Chicago for three years. The second was great, with eight sacks readjusting to outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, which he had a taste of with the Oakland Raiders. The first and third seasons with the Bears were lousy, tearing an ACL in both knees, limiting him to just ten games, including only two last season. Those knee injuries added to the thinking his time at Halas Hall wouldn’t last much longer.

“It was rough but adversity breeds success in my mind so I believe it was all for the better," Houston said.

Houston blocked out the noise as he went through a long rehab for the second time in three years.

“This is a competitive league and anytime you get hurt, there’s always the 'next man up' theory," Houston said. "So you can’t really focus on whether it’s about you being missed. It’s more about the team being successful.”

Now the Bears have to consider themselves lucky to have Houston. And hope the injury bug doesn't bite him again, or Floyd, or Young, or Dan Skuta or Sam Acho before the games start to count. Houston was brought in by former Bears GM Phil Emery in 2014 after an 8-8 season under Marc Trestman. His first ACL injury on his first Bears sack during a blowout road loss to the New England Patriots was almost emblematic of that chaotic, at times embarrassing, season.

“It’s much different now,” Houston says entering year three under John Fox, despite the 9-23 record. “We have a more cohesive locker room. Guys are excited to be here, they want to play football, they want to win. You can feel the vibe around the building. Everybody’s really into what we’re doing and how we’re doing it, and I think that’s going to make us a much better football team."

Houston now looks to flash back, performance-wise, to 2015, in his first season under Vic Fangio, and most of a defensive staff that seems to have the minds and architects in place. Now it’s a matter of having the right talent, and keeping it as healthy as possible, despite the ominous start with McPhee.

“We have to put in the work to show our identity and what we want that to be. Right now (it’s early) we don’t have an identity," Houston said. "We’re working and we’re going to find one before camp is out. I think we’re all excited about that and putting our best foot forward doing it. I think that’s something we have to earn. We have to work to build it and we’re going to keep on punching away.

“Thankfully we have the same defense and same coaches so I can get right back in this defense and get rolling again. Just to be around practice, be around the guys, the coaches, I’m very grateful for it and very excited about it. I’m not really worried about proving what I can do. I’ve got the same coaches, they know what I can do. Right now I’m thinking of getting thru the process, making steady progress and getting back out on the field and playing hard."