It’s only the preseason, but Cardinals receiver Jeremy Ross was too wide open during an important moment against the Bears’ first-team defense.
Several plays after quarterback Mike Glennon’s awful interception in the first half Saturday night, the Cardinals had a third-and-8 play from the Bears’ 20. And the Cardinals easily converted it as a potential field goal turned into a touchdown-scoring drive.
Out of a stack formation, Ross ran an unimpeded out route, which quickly turned into a 16-yard completion. Cornerback Marcus Cooper made the tackle, but nickel back Cre’Von LeBlanc and rookie safety Eddie Jackson also were in the area.
The animated conversations among the Bears’ defensive backs before and after Ross’ gain seemingly suggested that a miscue occurred at some point. It was a teaching moment for a secondary that remains very much a work in a progress.
As formidable as the Bears’ defensive front seven has looked this preseason, the ups and downs of the defensive backs will be what makes the entire unit a good or bad one.
If rookie safety Eddie Jackson beats out third-year veteran Adrian Amos – and it looks like he will – the Bears will feature four new starters in their secondary for Week 1 against the Falcons.
It’s a result of the Bears’ free-agent spending this offseason, which was a direct result of the defense’s inability to produce takeaways consistently over the previous two seasons.
Amos, a fifth-round pick in 2015, is the only defensive back to open the past two seasons in the starting lineup. Past starters include cornerbacks Alan Ball and Jacoby Glenn.
Safety Quintin Demps and cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper – three free-agent signings who account for more than $16.2 million in salary-cap space this season – are projected starters. LeBlanc and Bryce Callahan are competing at nickel back.
“Each and every day we’re developing trust, which is huge,” Demps said. “[It’s about] trust and communication on the back end.”
In this case, it helps to have defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and secondary coach Ed Donatell, but it doesn’t. Fangio and Donatell are widely respected coaches, but they also feature a mixture of zone and man coverages in the secondary. They want their safeties to be interchangeable. In general, there can be a lot for defensive backs to process.
“It all depends on the intelligence level of those players and how football savvy they are,” Fangio said of having multiple new starters in the secondary. “That’s really the guiding factor.”
In that regard, Fangio felt the secondary was doing “a good job” in training camp.
“It depends on the defensive system, too, with the chemistry,” Demps said. “If there’s a lot going on, it’s pretty tough to build chemistry because you’re always thinking. But the more reps you get together, the more chemistry you build.”
Amukamara and Cooper fit Fangio’s preference for big, strong cornerbacks, especially when it comes to press coverage. Amukamara and Cooper also said they like Fangio’s scheme because it allows them to play with their eyes in the backfield.
“I like the opportunity for my eyes and for everybody to see the ball,” Cooper said, “and to try to get physical on the receivers and just have that aggressive mindset.”
Demps sees good things ahead playing with Cooper and Amukamara.
“They’re veterans; they know a little about the game,” said Demps, who is in his 10th season. “They know their strengths and they know their weaknesses. They play to their strengths really well.”
But chemistry can’t be developed from the trainer’s room.
Amukamara sat out the Cardinals game because of a strained hamstring, while Callahan missed it with an ankle issue. Cooper missed a portion of organized team activities because of his own hamstring ailment.
In general, the Bears’ secondary needs time.
Demps knows it.
“Time will tell,” he said. “We still have a couple more weeks.”