One year after being a liability, the Chicago Bears’ secondary has eyes on being a much-improved unit.
Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times writes the new-look defensive backfield will dictate how well the Bears’ defense as a whole performs. While the play of cornerbacks and safeties will play a role in how well the defense plays, consider the kind of players that group will square off against when the regular season gets underway. Chicago’s secondary will face seven quarterbacks who have either won a Super Bowl or participated in one, as well as a parade of top-flight pass catchers – including 13 of the 21 highest-graded wide receivers by Pro Football Focus in 2016.
If that revamped secondary plays well, the Bears will be more competitive than expected and could even surprise during the 2017 season. And, hey, maybe rookie safety Eddie Jackson will be part of the positive change. Over at CBS Chicago, Chris Emma writes about how impressive the Alabama product has looked this summer, while Jahns adds the Bears might have found a special player with the 112th overall pick.
In a draft that was loaded with first-round talent, the Bears could have found an excellent value in Jackson – a potential first-round talent who fell to the fourth because of injury concerns. We’ve talked about Jackson as a potential impact player on special teams as a punt returner, detailed how his healthy presence could lead to improved pass defense, and even explored the idea of him taking Adrian Amos’ starting job after learning he has been taking first-team reps during practice. Jackson’s Pro Football Focus draft rankings pegged him as a ball-hawk, which seems to be an apt description based on his training camp and preseason production.
Just take a look at this break-up of a Carson Palmer pass in the end zone:
— ⓂarcusD (@_MarcusD2_) August 20, 2017
Even though Jackson couldn’t come up with the interception, the Bears have lacked this kind of athleticism and playmaking potential for quite some time. Adding Jackson’s range and instincts to the secondary could lead to a greater leap up the pass defense rankings than could have previously been imagined.
To be clear, if that’s how it plays out, Jackson will be just one piece to the puzzle. In addition to drafting Jackson, the Bears spent $17.5 million in guarantees on new secondary members Prince Amukamara, Marcus Cooper, and Quintin Demps. Bringing Amukamara, Cooper, and Demps to the mix adds veteran leadership and experience to a secondary that played eight players who were in their age 23 seasons or younger.
Secondary play lacked depth and productivity in 2016, making it a glaring weakness that was often exploited throughout the year. The group struggled to force turnovers through the air, evidenced by eight interceptions, which were tied for the second fewest in the NFL last season. Only the Jacksonville Jaguars (7) had fewer interceptions, and that’s not the kind of company you want to keep if defense is one of your team’s calling cards.