Trial by fire for young defensive backs: ‘I love the pressure’

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Bears cornerback De’Vante Bausby (20) had eight tackles, including seven solo tackles, against the Packers last week. (Matt Ludtke/AP)

After Bears cornerback De’Vante Bausby was beaten by Packers receiver Devante Adams for a touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers last week, he did what he was taught to do. He let it go — and promised to learn from the mistake. And hoped for another chance.

“I don’t have nightmares about it or anything,” said Bausby, a second-year undrafted free agent from Pittsburg State. “Did I get the job done? Not really. When I look back and watch film, there’s a lot of things I could have corrected.

“But the position I was put in wasn’t too big for me. I love being thrown in the fire. I love situations like that. I love the pressure. I didn’t do too good. But luckily I’m given another chance to redeem myself.”

Bausby’s misplay wasn’t egregious, just enough to get him beaten for the touchdown. “I’ve got to shoot through the [receiver’s] hands,” said Bausby, who had eight tackles — seven solos — against the Packers. “I put one hand up to shoot through his hands. But I’ve got to go with both hands. When he turns and I’m in a good position, I can turn for the ball as well. It’s just a lot of little things [the coaches] told me — which I already knew. I just didn’t capitalize in that moment of truth.”

So it goes for Bausby and the rest of the Bears young defensive backs learning the hard way — on the job. Other than cornerback Tracy Porter and safety Chris Prosinski, the Bears’ secondary is rife with youth and inexperience. Safety Adrian Amos is the veteran of the group, with 23 consecutive starts — but he’s still a second-year player who was a fifth-round draft pick in 2015.

In fact, five of the eight defensive backs to play against the Packers were undrafted free agents — starting safety Harold Jones-Quartey and cornerbacks Bausby, Cre-Von LeBlanc, Jacoby Glenn and Bryce Callahan.

It’s been a trial by fire for all of them — a good play here, a misplay there. Prior to the Adams’ touchdown against Bausby, Rodgers took seven shots at the end zone and failed. LeBlanc broke up two attempts for Randall Cobb. Bausby defended Adams on one play. Porter and Jones-Quartey kept Jeff Janis out of the end zone after a short completion on another.

But eventually, Rodgers won the battle, with three touchdown passes in the second half. The Bears were left to pick up the pieces. Callahan, starting at cornerback opposite Porter, was limited to 16 plays because of a hamstring injury. The Bears demoted Glenn to the practice squad and called up safety/cornerback Demontre Hurst, yet another undrafted free agent (2013) who has started three games in three seasons.

For Bausby, it was a lesson learned — or so he hopes. The teaching point was made by not only defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, but secondary coach Ed Donatell, assistant secondary coach Sam Garnes — and his teammates. “Guys like Tracy Porter,” Bausby said. “Especially Tracy. He got on me good about that one. Because we do it all the time — I just didn’t capitalize on it in he game.

“All my teammates kept encouraging me. They didn’t get down on m. But Tracy told me on the sideline after the play and when we watched film the next day. The inside linebackers, outside linebackers, they were all encouraging me. I wasn’t down. And knowing they had my back, I was still feeling good about myself.”

Porter not only lends a veteran presence in the cornerback room, but is a respected mentor. “I’m like a third coach on the field,” he said. “The coaches can’t come on the field, so it’s my job to coach these younger guys up, try to help them and tell them what I think is coming and get them in the right spot — so they can play quicker; so they’re not over-thinking and it’s going to slow them down.”

But Porter’s role also is part psychologist, keeping the morale up after a young cornerback or safety makes a mistake. “The biggest thing for them is to not lose confidence,” Porter said. “When a veteran quarterback sees a young guy, they’re naturally going to try to attack that side — that’s just what [Rodgers] chose to do.”

The Bears like their secondary prospects, including three rookies — cornerback Deiondre Hall, a fourth-round draft pick; and safeties Deon Bush, a fourth-round pick and DeAndre Houston-Carson, a sixth-round pick. Hall has missed the last three games with an ankle injury. Bush has played in three games, all on special teams. Houston-Carson has played eight defensive snaps in five games.

“The young guys — we’re battling injuries on the back end, but that’s no excuse,” Porter said. “We still have confidence in the guys we have. We just have to continue to keep that confidence and home in on our technique and what we have to do against opposing receivers.”

From Amos to Callahan to LeBlanc, none of them came into the league with any fanfare. Many have show flashes of playmaking ability. But all of them have a lot to prove to establish themselves as productive NFL players. It remains to be seen who — and how many — will make it.

“Time will tell,” Fangio said. “I don’t think we’ve seen enough to know for sure.”

Fangio said he sees positive signs. But injuries have prevented some of them from getting a good shot — particularly Callahan and Hall.

“I see improvement in LeBlanc,” Fangio said. “I see Callahan improving when he’s playing. [He’s] got a future.”

But for now, it’s a lot of hit-and-miss. Glenn started the first three games, but now has to wait for his chance while on the practice squad. But the Bears like him enough to give him a chance to get another chance. Like Bausby, it’s a matter of how well he learns from his mistakes.

Right now, the Bears’ secondary looks like a lot of rolls-of-the-dice. But Fangio defenses have produced surprises before.

“Jacoby’s had a tough go of it here lately,” Fangio said. “He’s got to be able to come back, get on the practice field, play a little better and when the next opportunity comes up, be ready for it.”

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