Injuries leave Bears’ cornerback depth thin — and young
Tracy Porter contests the premise of the question the way he would an incoming spiral.
“Household names don’t matter,” he said when asked about the Bears’ cadre of anonymous cornerbacks forced into action. “Name does not. …”
Fine, then, the questioner interrupts. How about experience?
With Kyle Fuller out for weeks after having arthroscopic knee surgery and slot corner Bryce Callahan having missed Thursday’s exhibition game with a hamstring injury, the Bears’ depth is about as thin as a cornerback’s calf.
The three corners listed as second-stringers Thursday claimed one game of regular-season experience, ever. Jacoby Glenn, who made one appearance for the Bears last year, left Thursday game with a suspected concussion, anyway.
De’Vante Bausby signed with the Bears’ practice squad last December, while Kevin Peterson is an undrafted free agent from Oklahoma State.
Were it not for Sherrick McManis — who played only one defensive snap against the Patriots — the third string wouldn’t have a single game of experience to its name. Deiondre Hall was a fourth-round pick, Taveze Calhoun an undrafted free agent. Joel Ross, signed in August, spent last year on two practice squads.
“We didn’t have a lot of experience back there either (last year),” said Porter, who forced and recovered a fumble against the Patriots. “But we played together.”
Porter re-signed to maintain that momentum. The Bears had hoped Fuller would improve in his third year; while that’s not precluded by his injury, it certainly doesn’t help.
It does, however, open up an opportunity for a unit Bausby calls “young and scrappy.” In two preseason games, all three of the team’s starters — Porter, Fuller and Callahan — have missed one start.
“Game experience is the best thing for these guys,” Porter said. “I can tell them all the tricks in the book, what to expect, but they won’t understand and know what to do unless they go through it in a game. “
Practicing for three days at Patriot Place grew that knowledge database. Cornerbacks were tested by option routes — many for the first time in NFL — as much as they Tom Brady and his veteran wide receivers.
“I feel like I gained a couple years of experience just from these days,” said Bausby, who spent a month with the Chiefs in spring 2015. “Just from what I’ve seen, from personnel to different routes.”
Hall learned from week-to-week. Film from the first exhibition game showed that, on his consecutive end zone pass breakups, he let the receiver run free rather than challenging him at the line of scrimmage. He didn’t turn his head for the ball, either.
Porter said Hall has “always been that competitor,” and just needs to clean up the little things.
“When you bring in rookies, you don’t really know,” Fox said. “You get them out there, they play. He’s played a lot. He’s actually shown up pretty good.
After starting Glenn alongside Porter on Thursday, coach John Fox cycled in cornerbacks. He was eager to see the film of how they executed.
“It gives us a chance to look at some other guys and give them an opportunity to catch our eye,” Fox said Saturday night.
If they don’t, the Bears will find someone who can.
No one expects a rebuilding team to have concrete answers at each position, but it seems unlikely the Bears risk starting the season with so little healthy experience.
They’ll keep an eye on cut lists, veteran free agents and could even pursue a trade to improve their stability.
The rest of the defense will try to help out — “Get to the quarterback — that helps every defense,” end Akiem Hicks said — be it with performance or pointers.
“You definitely try to lend your knowledge and your arm around those guys,” safety Demontre Hurst said. “And get them to calm down, and go out there and have fun and play.”
Hurst said the corners have “so much competition it’s crazy.”
But it’s fair to wonder: crazy good or just plain crazy?