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Bears putting safety Adrian Amos in better position to succeed

When Bears assistant secondary coach Sam Garnes was asked if there was a play that illustrates the progress his defensive backs have made this season — maybe a play someone made this year that he didn’t make last year — he pointed to Adrian Amos’ pass break-up against the Packers’ Jordy Nelson that earned the second-year safety a pass-interference penalty that cost the Bears 44 yards.

What?

“It was a flag, but it was a great play on his part, in my opinion,” Garnes said. “Him running with the receiver — he’s playing the ball. The receiver adjusts into him and it’s a bang-bang play.

“But that was a play that he would not have made last year. He would have just tried to go for the tackle. Or he would have been turned around and not even been in that position. Now he’s able to be in the middle, and once the ball comes up, who cares about the receiver — just go and get the ball. That’s what you teach them. We want to avoid contact. But once the ball is up, you become a receiver. I thought that was a heckuva play he made on the ball.”

Bears safety Adrian Amos (38) broke up an Aaron Rodgers pass for Jordy Nelson (87), but was called for pass interference in the Bears' 26-10 loss to the Packers on Oct. 20 at Lambeau Field. (Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

On that play in a 26-10 loss to the Packers on Oct. 20 at Lambeau Field, Amos indeed made a fine play in the middle of the field to reach with his left arm and deflect Aaron Rodgers’ deep pass to Nelson for an incompletion on second-and-nine. But his right hand on Nelson’s shoulder made it a pretty clear foul. Be that as it may, the play is a fitting example of just where the Bears are with their young secondary in Vic Fangio’s second season as defensive coordinator: closer to consistently making big plays against elite players, but still needing to take the next step.

“I was just playing football,” Amos said of the play against Nelson. “That was an aggressive penalty. I’m going up to play for the ball. It could have gone either way. [The coaches] didn’t say too much about it. A lot of people said, ‘Good play.’”

But still it was a lesson learned for Amos, a sixth-round draft pick from Penn State. “I look at it like, what can I do next time to make sure there’s no question whether it’s a penalty,” he said. “I didn’t get mad or down on the ref. Just … next time be a little more artful in getting around the receiver to get the ball.”

Amos has started every game of his two-year NFL career. But even now it’s difficult to quantify the progress he’s made. That he has made 15 fewer tackles at the half-way point this season (36) than last (51) indicates the Bears’ defense is making progress — more tackles are being made close to the line of scrimmage. But the knock on Amos last year was that he didn’t make many plays on the ball in the air — just four pass break-ups in 16 games.

Through eight games this season, Amos has two pass break-ups — the same amount he had at this point as a rookie. Still, Garnes quickly pointed to Amos as the young secondary player who has made the biggest jump from last season.

“He’s taken the next step,” Garnes said. “We’ve learned to use him better as well. We’re putting him in position to play man-to-man more; play a little bit more underneath. That suits who he is — he’s more of a cover guy. He has so much speed and athleticism, you want to put him back there in deep middle, because he has the range and all that. But he’s more comfortable playing closer int he box, playing man-to-man on guys. And navigating underneath zones.

“We want interceptions — I won’t deny that. But he’s definitely getting his hands on the ball. A couple of break-ups in key situations — third-down situations, plays where we split him out by himself, covering key targets. He’s doing a good job covering, like Julius Thomas [of the Jaguars] and different tight ends we’ve faced. We’ve even put him on receivers. And he’s done a good job.”

Amos’ play against Thomas was the other play that most impressed Garnes — “You watch corners get beat by Julius Thomas,” he said. But it typifies just how fine the line between success and failure can be. Amos was one-on-one against Thomas, who was split out wide on a third-and-four play. Amos was even more aggressive against Thomas than he was against Jordy Nelson in breaking up the pass, and even more egregiously grabbed Thomas’ jersey — but with no call. The Nelson pass break-up actually was technically better. Sometimes pass interference depends on who is throwing it more than who is catching it. Amos is learning that as well.

His strategy will not change. He will continue to be aggressive — even if it results in mistakes. It’s the only way to learn in this league.

“That’s just part of the game,” Amos said. “It’s hard just like any part of life — when something happens to you, it’s hard to get past it. When you have that fear of messing up, that’s when you’re most likely to mess up.”