By Chris Emma–
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. (CBS) — Well before Adrian Amos was an NFL safety, dating back to his days growing up in Baltimore, he had a fascination with the Incredible Hulk.
As Amos blossomed into a talented football player, the “Hulk Smash” became a moniker for his play. At Penn State, he developed into a tough, tenacious player who embraced the game’s physicality and dished plenty of it out.
The Bears are excited to see what “Smash” can become in Chicago.
“I know my capabilities,” Amos said Tuesday training camp. “I’m just working to put myself in positions to show that.”
Amos was a bright spot for the Bears last season. He was drafted in the fifth round with the pick acquired in return from the Jets for Brandon Marshall and would go on to start all 16 games, playing nearly every single defensive snap.
Playing within a Bears secondary often in flux for personnel last season, Amos became a trustworthy presence.
“He’s just a very mature guy, from the day he walked in,” Bears defensive backs coach Ed Donatell said of Amos. “He’s a guy that could be the same guy every day, which was really hard to do when you’re transitioning in your first year. He’s just been really solid.”
Added Amos: “Being thrown in the fire, I had to learn on the fly. But that’s helped me as I’ve handled these experiences. I know what it’s like to play on this stage.”
Even as a rookie, Amos rarely looked out of place. The Bears have a bad recent history at safety, but Amos could change the perception. He returns from an eventful offseason that included a procedure on his right shoulder and looks like a better player.
Amos proved to be a solid run defender as a rookie. He can turn upfield quickly and attack the ball-carrier in a short notice.
However, while Amos was a steady presence in the secondary, he didn’t change games the way his team needed. Amos finished his rookie season with zero interceptions and forced fumbles. The Bears had just eight interceptions and 17 takeaways last season.
Amos isn’t a rookie anymore. The Bears need him to be not just consistent at safety but a playmaker, too.
“It’s a mindset,” Donatell said of taking away the football. “You create it. It’s a culture. There’s no question about it.”
Takeaways are always an emphasis in training camp, where the fundamentals are constantly reinforced. The Bears need to be better at finding the football, because they lost seven games last season by just a score. Turnovers could’ve earned Chicago a few more wins.
During this offseason, the Bears bolstered their front seven with Akiem Hicks and Jonathan Bullard joining Eddie Goldman and Mitch Unrein up front while adding Danny Trevathan, Jerrell Freeman and Leonard Floyd to Pernell McPhee, Willie Young, Lamarr Houston in a strong linebacking group.
But Year 2 for general manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox didn’t bring any changes to the secondary. As the revamped front seven should create opportunities for turnovers, it will still fall on the shoulders of the secondary to take advantage.
Amos needs to be a difference-maker for the Bears and their young secondary.
“It’s a big challenge, but it’s a lot of fun,” Donatell said of coaching his unit. “These guys are so willing and wide open to learning. They work together. We’re going to have an energy of us all working together.”
Pace couldn’t have been shocked when Amos became a 16-game starter as a rookie. Any general manager believes in each pick developing into something of value, and Pace has moved up and down the draft to maximize each pick with the right player.
In picking Amos in the fifth round last spring, the Bears may have just found their future at safety. He’s hungry to prove Pace was right.
“That’s the goal,” he said. “I want to be the best. If you’re the best, you should be here.”