December 06, 2022


Hub Arkush: Competition is Bears new mantra but defense is pretty well set

Bears coaches acknowledge cornerback and safety are key spots to watch

LAKE FOREST – Under the best of circumstances in the National Football League rosters and depth charts change daily.

On the Chicago Bears offense right now, Allen Robinson, Cody Whitehair and David Montgomery are literally the only players certain to have starting jobs.

But as hard as Matt Nagy and his disciples have worked to make competition their players’ credo, the Bears defense is certain to be one of the best in the NFL and close to 85% etched in stone.

All that is left for discussion is who will start at corner and safety opposite All-Pros Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson?

The starting strong safety spot next to Jackson appeared to be Deon Bush’s to lose until the Bears signed former Pro Bowler Tashaun Gipson.

It’s now a two-horse race with DeAndre Houston-Carson, Jordan Lucas and Kentrell Brice battling for two backup/special teams roles.

Thursday, defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, a four-year starter at safety in college at Wyoming expressed an affinity for Gipson with tongue in cheek.

“I've been watching him from afar and obviously he's a graduate from one of the finest universities in the country in Wyoming," Pagano said. “He's an athletic guy, he can play in deep parts of the field and he's got good coverage skills and he can play down in the box so from a versatility standpoint it's going to be great to have him.

“He's a smart guy, he's played a lot of football.”

While Gipson is a strong front-runner, safeties coach Sean Desai says don’t count Bush out.

“Deon’s done great over the last couple years, to be honest," Desai said. "And he knows, and Gipson knows, and Eddie knows, and everybody in that safety room knows that this is a competition.

“I think he’s smart, he’s really smart. “He cares a lot, he’s really passionate. He’s tough, he’s shown that he’s really tough and willing to tackle. And he’s got really good range, he’s got really good range in the deep part of the field.”

The vacant cornerback spot is even less certain with rookie second round pick Jaylon Johnson a slight favorite over Kevin Toliver, free agent and former Steelers first round pick Artie Burns, CFL free agent Tre Roberson, fifth round rookie Kindle Vildor and 2019 draft picks Duke Shelley and  Stephen Denmark all fighting with veteran special teams ace Sherrick McManis for roster spots.

Secondary coach Deshea Townsend is unwilling to agree there is a frontrunner yet.

“I think we need to change that narrative. You never want to give somebody his job, and I don’t want Jaylon to think it’s his job because we drafted him.

“Everybody in my room talks about it, and I’ve said this to them: it’s everybody’s job to be a starter.

“Kyle’s job is to hold off Denmark. It’s Denmark’s job to take Kyle’s job.

“If you’re not a starter, your role is to be a starter, and that’s the competition we want in the room.”

Nonetheless Johnson was picked high for a reason and Townsend says, “He's already a great kid. I'm not worried about him taking coaching.

“But how do you respond from when you have a bad day. Those are the things that you have to see as a young guy that you want to see if he can handle it.”

As for Toliver, Townsend says he’s already shown he can play but he needs to show he’s ready for the challenge.

“K.T. has a great opportunity. Prince (Amukamara) got hurt, he came in and showed what he was supposed to do. He showed that he is a starter in this league," Townsend said. “Now it's his job to hold everybody off that comes to get it. He knows that this is his opportunity, and that's all he can ask for. If he does what he did against Davante Adams, the plays that he made against Amari Cooper, he showed that he can play in the league, can be a starter in the league.

“He has to build upon it.”

Roberson is a converted college quarterback who starred at corner in the CFL and the Bears beat out a number of bidders for, and Burns became a special teams ace in Pittsburgh but never got comfortable at cornerback.

With the offseason already significantly truncated the veterans Gipson and Toliver each have head starts over their teammates, but while all eyes are trained on Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles these could be the fiercer competitions to watch.

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush is the Senior Bears Analyst for Shaw Local News Network and