Look at the new Bears depth chart and one thing jumps off the page.
Starting free safety Danieal Manning, the replacement for the injured Mike Brown, just became the defense's most irreplaceable player.
Now nobody is suggesting Manning suddenly means as much to the Bears defense as Brian Urlacher or Tommie Harris. But at least if either Harris or Urlacher went down, able, veteran options exist.
Behind Manning, the depth chart could read Hope and Prayer.
Manning brings the experience of starting 14 games as a rookie last year and better athleticism than perhaps any player in the Bears locker room. The defense will remain dominant with him.
Without him, no such guarantee could be made.
That is not necessarily a knock on Kevin Payne, the rookie elevated to No. 2 at the position. But the Bears drafted Payne as a strong safety to make plays close to the box instead of roam the secondary to clean up others' mistakes at free safety.
Cornerback Charles Tillman also pointed out that the Bears trust Brandon McGowan, who has three career starts, if injury forced him into the lineup. But has McGowan shown enough awareness in limited duty to have earned it?
Tillman also stressed that in the Cover 2 defense the safety positions are interchangeable because of the way each position has to cover half the field. Those are valid points but overlook the value of quickness, savvy and experience when it comes to a position that requires all three traits to provide caulk for the tiniest secondary leak.
"Either Payne or McGowan could do it,'' Tillman said.
In a pinch so could Tillman, who earned All-America honors at Louisiana-Lafayette after moving to free safety the second half of his senior year. At least sliding Tillman over to free safety alongside Adam Archuleta if something happens to Manning would bring Ricky Manning Jr. on the field to play Tillman's cornerback spot and keep the most proven players in the secondary.
Both Tillman and McGowan called such a move "not an option.''
"I'll do anything they asked me to do,'' Tillman said. "If they asked me to play free safety and it'd help out the team, I would. I'd play anywhere if they asked. But I don't think it'll come to that.''
If the Bears are lucky, they never will have to consider the scenario. But can a Super Bowl contender afford not to consider every possibility at such a key position?
Here are some other questions just as compelling.
Does anyone miss Chris Harris? Chris McGowan consistently blows coverage, and Mike Brown is out again. What are we doing here? What am I missing? --Drew, Loves Park, Ill.
Harris made seven tackles and forced a fumble in his debut as a starter for Carolina and broke into the lineup with the Bears in 2005 playing free safety Brown's position. So given the Bears' lack of proven players behind new starter Danieal Manning, anybody saying Harris' experience isn't missed at Halas Hall is just trying to justify the trade. As sad as Brown's season-ending injury was, it wasn't surprising that he sustained a serious injury.
Why the Bears didn't anticipate that void instead of unloading a guy who started 20 of the past 25 games might be a question that nags the Bears all year.
I just saw that New England's Ellis Hobbs broke the longest kick return, which was 108 yards. Why does it matter how many steps back in the end zone the returner is? Everyone still has to go 100 yards to score. Isn't this kind of dumb to be factoring in the yardage in the end zone. If it is so significant, why not put yard marks down in the end zone? --Marc Cheiken, Las Vegas
Then nobody in the NFL could decorate the end-zone grass with team or corporate logos. But it's a good point considering the NFL history potentially at stake.
Are the Bears going to regret not having done more to improve the offensive line this past off-season? I know the group is getting somewhat long in the tooth and it seems the Bears failed to successfully address that issue. --Ryan Tennant, Rock Island, Ill.
If all five starters stay healthy, the Bears will regret nothing. What exactly did they need to improve on the offensive line? Teams long for the stability up front the Bears have enjoyed since moving John Tait to left tackle in 2005. As guard Ruben Brown was explaining Thursday, in his experience defensive lines tend to be ahead of offensive lines because their assignments are less complex. Brown didn't say this but conditioning also might help explain why offensive lines often function better as the weather begins to cool than in early September when the sun still can sap strength late in games. Plus, the Bears' No. 1 line took three snaps together during preseason.
The only combatant to the line's age, keeping in mind the salary cap, is the draft and the Bears have had mixed results going that route to bolster their depth. It's easy to say the Bears need to get younger on the offensive line but much harder to develop that youth on a veteran unit.
Was the Bears' decision to run on three consecutive plays before turning it over on downs in the fourth quarter against the Chargers the coaching staff's way of protecting Rex Grossman from losing the game? If he's the franchise QB, and the coaching staff is really behind him, wasn't that the time to air it out, with time dwindling on the clock and Grossman already having marched the team about 30 yards in two plays? Do you think the coaches are handling Grossman with kid gloves to save face for drafting him high with mixed results? --The Natural, Harper Woods, Mich.
The coaching staff wants to win now and Grossman's draft history has nothing to do with the play-calling. The Bears ran three straight times in attempt to get the first down so they could open it up, and the worst call of that sequence was second-and-2 when it would have made sense to trust Grossman to make something happen. Your theory that the coaches are coddling Grossman loses validity when you consider that the best call of the day - and the longest gain from scrimmage - came on a 24-yard pass to Desmond Clark with the Bears backed up on their own 5.
Is there any way to account for the refs not seeing and calling a penalty on the play that ended Mike Brown's season? I mean the guy was a couple strides away from the ball carrier when Lorenzo Neal grabbed him around the collar and threw him to the ground. Even the TV announcers said Neal turned around looking for all the world as though he expected to get a penalty flag. --Craig Brown, Geneseo, Ill.
It indeed looked like a penalty but Neal swore his intent wasn't malicious, and the veteran doesn't have a reputation as a dirty player. That suggestion bugged Neal when the Chargers media brought it up this week. "It wasn't a [horse-] collar,'' Neal said. "I talked to Mike Brown. He knows I would never do anything intentionally. That's what happens when you play football. I apologized to him. You never want something like that to happen."
I know you said the Bears were never overly impressed with Ian Scott, but with Dusty Dvoracek out and Anthony Adams and Antonio Garay unproven doesn't picking him up look like a smart move? --Charles, Mays Landing, N.J.
Scott has to wait six weeks before going on the market and will have some knee concerns when available but would be worth a look. The Bears don't necessarily consider Adams unproven and kept him inactive for the opener in part because of needs on special teams. Even so, the chance to bring back a player in Scott who started in the Super Bowl and played tough against the run could appeal to the Bears if they sustain another injury along the defensive front.
What's up with other NFL players resenting Brian Urlacher? First he gets voted one of the most overrated players in the game. Then there are guys like Shawne Merriman who sound like they want to take shots at him. Is this resentment over his fame or do these guys really believe Urlacher is not that talented? --Anand Sethupathy, New York
Anybody who has watched Urlacher play and believes that is probably worthy of Ron Rivera's favorite nickname for Rex Grossman. (Sorry, alleged nickname). Any criticism of Urlacher from the player fraternity either stems from jealousy over his celebrity and success in endorsements or being hit in the head too often. Whether Urlacher likes the Cover 2 or not, he excels at getting deep enough to the middle zone to be effective and still runs down ball carriers as well as any middle linebacker in the league. He is the best player on one of the best defenses in the NFL, which invites resentment.
Is there any realistic chance the Bears and Lance Briggs could still resolve their differences and produce a long-term contract? He sure isn't playing like a guy who hates his situation. He probably should get close to what he's asking. --Jerry Barabas, Ft. Calhoun, Neb.
Sure, there's a chance. There's also a chance Briggs will replace his damaged Lamborghini with a Prius. But neither is likely.
I know it's probably too soon to speculate, but concerning the latest injury to Mike Brown (who is one of my favorite Bears of all-time) is there any chance we ever see No. 30 on the field for Bears again? Or is it time for the franchise to cut the cord and move on without him in their plans for the future? Thanks. --Jamie Smith, Buford, Ga.
Brown expected to be cut in the off-season following his 2006 injury so it makes sense to expect the Bears to make the difficult decision to part company with one of the franchise's most popular players of the modern era.
Though a consensus seems to have built that Brown will retire from the NFL, remember that he is only 29 and safeties often enjoy more longevity than other position players in the league. Everybody would understand if he chose that route. But after another year of physical rehabilitation, and mental refreshing, Brown might conclude that he wants to give it another shot in another city where his luck might change. For a team looking for a veteran with big-play potential from the secondary, it could be a risk worth taking.
At what point does Ron Turner have to shoulder some of the blame for the offensive woes? I know that he isn't the one turning over the football, but I was surprised when Turner called three straight dives in a key situation when the offensive line was getting little push all afternoon long. --Dan Yopchick, Arlington Heights, Ill.
Out of habit, every year Bears fans love the backup quarterback, lobby for the shot-gun formation, think the team should throw more to the tight end, and rip the offensive coordinator. Turner didn't call a clever game against the Chargers and needed to threaten with more deep passes and involve Devin Hester more. That sequence you mention didn't inspire anybody either. But the problems don't start with Turner, whose body of work earns more patience than some critics are showing him this week. Innovation means nothing without execution and the Bears simply didn't block well enough, run well enough or throw well enough to beat one of the NFL's best defenses.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times