By Adam Hoge-
The eighth in a series of depth chart breakdowns leading up to the start of Bears training camp in Bourbonnais.
(CBS) The Bears’ secondary as you know it could be over after this season.
With a mix of new and old, and a number of guys in contract years, there is no lack of motivation among the cornerbacks and safeties.
Let’s take a look at what should be one of the more interesting position groups to watch in Bourbonnais:
|1st Team||2nd Team||3rd Team||4th Team|
|CB||Tim Jennings||Kelvin Hayden||Isaiah Frey||C.J. Wilson|
|CB||Charles Tillman||Zack Bowman||Sherrick McManis||Demontre Hurst|
|SS||Major Wright||Tom Zbikowski||Craig Steltz||Tom Nelson|
|FS||Chris Conte||Brandon Hardin||Anthony Walters||Cyhl Quarles|
CB Tim Jennings – Now in his eighth NFL season, Jennings went to his first Pro Bowl last year. Can he keep it up in a contract year?
CB Charles Tillman – Tillman also is entering the final year of his contract and, at 32 years old, it will be interesting to see if he can maintain his high level of play.
SS Major Wright – Fourth-year safety had his best season last year, but Bears will still want to see improvement before offering an extension.
FS Chris Conte – Improved greatly last year, but in the same boat as Wright. Still can get better.
Kelvin Hayden – Proved to be an adequate option off the bench last year and is likely nickel back this season.
Zack Bowman – Valuable special-teamer shouldn’t have much of a problem making the 53-man roster.
Isaiah Frey – 2012 sixth-round pick spent last year on the practice squad and will have to show improvement in training camp this year.
Sherrick McManis – The former Northwestern product was pretty good on special teams last year after the Bears acquired him in a mid-season trade.
C.J. Wilson – Undrafted free agent from North Carolina State will have an uphill battle making the team.
Demontre Hurst – Undrafted free agent from Oklahoma is talented enough to get reps in the nickel spot, but the numbers aren’t in his favor.
Tom Zbikowski – Former Notre Dame star returns home, but he still has to fight for a roster spot.
Brandon Hardin – Hardin is healthy and has potential, but he hasn’t played football regularly since 2010 at Oregon State.
Craig Steltz – A favorite of the previous regime, Steltz knows the Bears’ defense well but is not a lock to make the team.
Anthony Walters – Another guy favored by Lovie Smith’s coaching staff, Walters has an important camp ahead of him.
Tom Nelson – Illinois State product returns home, but didn’t play in a game last season.
Cyhl Quarles – Was with both the Ravens and Patriots last year, but spent most of the season without a job.
Training Camp Outlook
No unit is in danger of looking completely different after this season than the secondary. The top three cornerbacks on the Bears are all entering contract years and so is safety Major Wright. Phil Emery could have looked into a contract extension for Charles Tillman in the offseason, but chose not to. That’s not surprising considering Tillman is now 32 years old.
The good news is that this is a group with a lot to play for in 2013. Tillman and Jennings can make a good amount of money if they maintain their Pro Bowl level of play from last season, while Wright and Conte are both in position to earn extensions with the Bears with a big year.
There’s probably enough depth in the secondary, but almost all of the backup jobs are up for grabs. Hayden, Bowman and McManis will have the best chance of making the team amongst the cornerbacks, but if any of the young guys make big jumps, that could change. Meanwhile, Zbikowski, Hardin, Steltz, Walters and Nelson are all essentially fighting for spots. That will be one of the better position battles in training camp.
Sleeper: Demontre Hurst. Don’t be surprised at all to see Hurst flash in camp. With D.J. Moore out of the picture, the Bears will be looking for someone to push Hayden at the nickel spot. Hurst is an ideal nickelback and might pass up Frey in camp. He’ll likely need the help of an injury or two in camp to boost him up to the 53-man roster, but a practice squad spot makes sense.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.