Bears improve at CB with Prince Amukamara, Marcus Cooper
Who is this guy?
That’s what cornerback Prince Amukamara recalls thinking early last season when he was with the Jaguars and saw fellow cornerback Marcus Cooper’s highlight reel from the Cardinals’ Week 2 win against the Buccaneers.
“He had two picks and a pick-six,” Amukamara said. “Then he went on to have an amazing year — four picks, 10 or 11 [pass breakups].”
It’s also great because Amukamara and Cooper are now teammates. Heck, at this point, it’s fair to say that they’ll be the Bears’ starting duo at cornerback.
“I’m just excited that he’s coming in with me,” said Cooper, who met Amukamara for the first time Saturday at Halas Hall.
“We are both coming into this situation new — brand new — together. We’re looking to make some things happen.”
The Bears didn’t wait long to make up for missing out on top free-agent cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore (Patriots), A.J. Bouye (Jaguars) and Logan Ryan (Titans) after the first rush of free agency. They didn’t fit within the financial parameters that the Bears had set.
But Amukamara and Cooper, both 27, did.
Amukamara turned down a multiyear deal from a team he didn’t name to sign a one-year deal worth $7 million. Cooper received a three-year contract. The details are not yet known.
The Bears also re-signed Johnthan Banks to a one-year contract.
After the defense forced a mere 11 takeaways last season, upgrading the secondary was an obvious priority for the Bears in free agency.
Cornerback is now one of the team’s deepest positions. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and secondary coach Ed Donatell have plenty to sort through, whether it’s parting ways with Kyle Fuller to making veteran Tracy Porter fight for playing time to accelerating Deiondre’ Hall’s learning curve or putting Bryce Callahan and Cre’Von LeBlanc inside at nickel back to compete.
“I love when there’s a lot of competition in the [defensive-backs] room,” Amukamara said. “It forces all of our levels of play to rise and take it to the next level.”
For Amukamara, a first-round pick of the Giants in 2011, that involves making sure he’s not shut out of interceptions in 2017 as he was last year for the Jaguars.
“It’s frustrating, but it’s definitely a fuel in the offseason so you don’t land a goose egg again,” he said.
Amukamara (6-0) and Cooper (6-2) fit the physical profile that Fangio looks for in his cornerbacks. They also excel in man coverage.
“On the stat sheet, I didn’t look as sexy as everybody else, but individually and personally as a player, I really believe that I’m a lock-down corner,” Amukamara said.
Cooper first played for Fangio and Donatell in 2013 for the 49ers, who drafted him in the seventh round.
“I’m a taller guy,’’ Cooper said, ‘‘a longer guy. I got some ability to run. That’s allowed me to cover guys in a different fashion than some of the smaller guys around the league.”
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