Welcome to the 11th of our 12-part series as we get you ready for Bears Training Camp 2022 by looking at each position group on the depth chart, special teams and the new coaching staff.
We’ll bring you brief scouting reports with pluses and minuses for every notable player, how each group stacks up against the rest of the NFL, projected potential surprises and disappointments, the final 53-man roster and likely practice squad keepers.
Part 11 – Safeties
While the roster currently includes 14 cornerbacks competing for five or six spots, there will be only six true safeties in training camp competing for four or five spots. Either Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus have unusual confidence in these six guys, or some of those corners will be competing at safety too.
Jackson looked like the NFL’s future at free safety coming off a remarkable 2018 All-Pro sophomore season, but his play began to wane during the final third of the 2019 season. He has been just a guy for the most part the past two seasons.
Nonetheless, he received a four-year, $58.4 million contract extension before the 2020 season that included $33 million guaranteed and runs through 2024.
He is a true free safety, a center fielder who has been asked to play closer to the line of scrimmage the past two years. But the presence of rookie Jaquan Brisker, more of an in-the-box strong safety, should work to Jackson’s advantage.
Biggest plus: Jackson has great instincts and some of the best ball skills in the league.
Biggest concern: At times his tackling leaves much to be desired.
Brisker appears to have all the tools to be a perfect match for Jackson. And like the veteran, Brisker comes with a reputation as a big-play, key-moment guy with excellent ball skills of his own.
How he will fare in coverage at this level is unknown.
Biggest plus: Brisker comes with a reputation of a hard-nosed athlete for whom the moment is never too big.
Biggest concern: He’ll have to break a habit of locking eyes with the quarterback and ending up playing catch-up in coverage.
Houston-Carson has morphed into that dependable veteran who can step in at either safety spot or even at nickel and not get you beat, and he brings great special teams value as well.
Biggest plus: Houston-Carson is smart, tough and a valued leader on a young roster.
Biggest concern: He isn’t a guy you want having to play all 60 minutes.
A veteran free agent from the Tennessee Titans, Cruikshank arrives with a reputation as a nasty No. 3 safety who will knock your block off, seek contact and bring real special teams coverage ability.
Biggest plus: He specializes in covering tight ends in the nickel and dime packages, which has earned the nickname the “Tight End Eraser.”
Biggest concern: He just isn’t an every-down defender.
Joseph is a cornerback by trade who has been struggling to make the team since being a priority undrafted rookie free agent in 2018. After four years mostly on the practice squad, he was seen often at safety this summer.
Biggest plus: He can shadow and run with No. 2 and 3 receivers.
Biggest concern: How many guys finally make a team in their fifth season?
As the 254th pick in this year’s draft, we’ve rarely seen a young man as excited to become a Bear.
He is tough, aggressive, often around the ball and has a knack for creating takeaways, but he’s a bit undersized and lacks any special traits.
Biggest plus: His attitude and desire appear to be off the charts.
Biggest concern: There are reasons he was No. 254.
A.J. Thomas, Jon Alexander
An outside linebacker at Western Michigan, Thomas has nice size (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) to take a crack at safety. Alexander is even an inch taller and at least played the position at Charlotte. Both are undrafted rookie free agents and long shots for anything but the practice squad.
Where they fit in NFL: Talent- and traits-wise, they’re upper half, but Jackson is the only known quantity. And which Eddie will we see?
Potential: If Brisker is ready by Week 1, he and Jackson could be a top-10 duo and even a better group with Cruikshank and DHC behind them.
Surprises: Jackson and Brisker mesh immediately and the turnovers start coming opening day and don’t stop.
Disappointments: Jackson’s 2018 campaign was a one off, and Brisker’s ceiling is Adrian Amos.
Outcome: Jackson, Brisker, Houston-Carson and Cruikshank look locked in, and either Joseph or Hicks will have to knock a cornerback off the roster to stick.