Newcomer Antrel Rolle is comfortable in Vic Fangio’s defense. But he knows he’s not as comfortable as he needs to be.
“Still trying to find that major comfort zone, which we haven’t [done] yet. I don’t think [anyone] has hit that comfort zone yet,” the three-time Pro Bowl safety said. “But we’re working towards it.”
“We’re working towards it” might become a 2015 slogan for the Bears’ defense, which is still in the early and awkward stages of transition under John Fox and Fangio. The Bears are well into the painful process of doing a tear-down and rebuild simultaneously — particularly in the secondary, which could have new starters in four of five spots after cornerback Tim Jennings was released and safety Ryan Mundy was placed on injured reserve with a hip injury Sunday.
Ball, an eight-year veteran cornerback from Illinois, is the current starter opposite Kyle Fuller, the 2014 No. 1 draft pick who started the final 14 games as a rookie. Rolle and rookie Adrian Amos, a fifth-round draft pick, are starting at safety. Sherrick McManis is in line to start at nickel back ahead of Demontre Hurst, last year’s starter.
As Fox noted Monday, it’s a fluid situation. Hurst still is in the running at nickel. Cornerback Terrance Mitchell could force Fox’s hand if he continues to make plays. Second-year safety Brock Vereen, who started the final three games last season after Conte was injured, is not far behind Amos. “We haven’t picked a starting lineup yet. We’re looking at a lot of different guys,” Fox said.
It can politely be referred to as a work-in-progress. Outside of McManis, none of the current starters has distinguished himself in the preseason —including Rolle and Fuller. In fact, the most impressive defensive back has been Mitchell, the second-year cornerback from Oregon who figures to eventually get a chance to prove himself.
It’s a process that requires patience. The players are still in the learning stages of Fangio’s defense. It will take a few games or more to see if this group can establish the aggressive, tough-tackling identity Fangio is looking for. The new lineup has the size the Bears want — Ball (6-2, 195) and Fuller (5-11, 190) at cornerback; Rolle (6-0, 206) and Amos (6-0, 218) at safety; and McManis (6-1, 197) at nickel. Making plays is usually the tricky part.
“We’re still working to find that identity,” Rolle said. “We’re all working new together. We’re all learning a new system. It’s not going to happen overnight. We’re not going to use [the newness] as an excuse. It’s just the reality of it. I may have to play differently with this guy than [another] guy. We’re striving to get better every day.”
As for the 5-8 Jennings, Fox said his release was nothing personal. “We liked [other] guys better,” he said. “We evaluate every practice and unfortunately for him, he was recovering from an offseason injury [which required arthroscopic knee surgery]. It’s not that that you don’t like guys. It’s that you like other people better.”