Zack Bowman brought the Bears’ big secret to the Giants and, after some prodding, spread it like religion.
In 2014, members of his new team noticed that Bowman, a little-used cornerback toward the end of his six-year Bears career, kept forcing fumbles during preseason practice.
“It was crazy,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “Bowman came there and was getting about two turnovers a day just by punching the ball. Just because it was new. (Receivers) didn’t know how to lock it in. Guys hadn’t seen it or experienced that type of pressure.”
Finally, his fellow Giants cornerbacks — including Amukamara, who the Bears signed to a one-year, $7 million deal in March — asked him about the secret.
It was, of course, the Peanut Punch, popularized by former Bears cornerback Charles Tillman.
“Guys started inquiring, and asking, ‘Man, how are you doing it?’” Amukamara said. “And then after that, me and the other guys, we started doing it. …
“We were all thankful that Bowman taught us that.”
When Amukamara spoke Tuesday of returning the Bears cornerback room to its previous greatness, then, he knows of what he speaks — and the challenges ahead.
The Bears forced only 11 turnovers last season, tying the NFL record for futility, before signing former Cardinal Marcus Cooper and Amukamara to start at cornerback.
“Just to bring back that tradition of Chicago Bears defense, where there’s a lot of takeaways and plays on the ball,” Amukamara said. “Just restoring that order.”
GM Ryan Pace believes Amukamara, who turned 28 on Tuesday, can be a steadying force on a team that cut veteran cornerback Tracy Porter and is still not sure what, if anything, to expect from former first-round pick Kyle Fuller.
While practicing takeaways won’t get serious until the Bears put on pads, the team has stressed them during their offseason program, which ends with a three-day mandatory minicamp next week at Halas Hall.
Pace suspects Amukamara has posted “hidden production” during his career, positing that quarterbacks didn’t throw in his direction because he was covering his man.
Amukamara is coming off his first-ever season without an interception. The 19th pick of the 2011 draft has only surpassed one interception in a season only once — 2014, when he logged three with the Giants.
Amukamara’s not sure if his interception drought last year with the Jaguars was because of luck, skill or scheme —“I think all of it works together,” the cornerback said —but he thinks Vic Fangio’s system will put him in a better position to get takeaways.
Former coaches told him how much he’d like playing for the Bears’ defensive coordinator. Like that of former Giants coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, Fangio’s scheme allows Amukamara to watch the quarterback’s eyes and more aggressively pursue a pass.
“You get to have vision, you get to see the ball and you get to make plays on the ball,” he said. “You get to challenge the receivers. I would say Vic is similar to Spagnuolo … just because they don’t like to wait for the offense to attack them.
“They like to attack the offense. They’re sending blitzes from all sorts of directions and are not making the pocket comfortable for the quarterback.”
Last month, Fangio was quick to point out that Amukamara was on his third team in three years —hardly a symbol of consistency.
Still, he’s optimistic that this season will be the best of the three.
“Thought he played better last year than he had earlier in his career,” Fangio said. “And hopefully he’ll be able to continue that here and maybe play his best. He should be in his prime.”