Year in Review: Safeties

S Mike Brown (Kevin  Cox/Getty)

The Cover 2 defense requires excellent play from both safety positions, but the Bears simply aren't getting it. Mike Brown can't remain healthy, Kevin Payne is undisciplined, and injuries just won't go away. Bear Report takes a look back at 2008 for the safeties while also looking ahead to 2009.

2008 Review
Three of the four teams remaining in the championship round of the NFL playoffs – the Steelers, Ravens, and Eagles – have been getting Pro Bowl-caliber play from the safety position for quite a while, and the Cardinals also feature a former Pro Bowler at that spot in Adrian Wilson.


S Craig Steltz
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Mike Brown was voted to Hawaii in 2005 and even made an All-Pro team back in '01, but to intimate he's still playing to the level that Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed, and Brian Dawkins are would be irresponsible. Brown will surely go down as one of the greatest warriors in franchise history and has scored more defensive touchdowns (7) than any Bear to put on a uniform, but he hasn't played a full 16-game schedule since 2003 and again dealt with nagging lower-leg injuries this past season. While his leadership is second to none in the huddle, he's just not a difference-maker anymore and may have seen his tenure in the Windy City come to a close.

Kevin Payne was hit-and-miss during his first season as a starter and Danieal Manning appears to have found a home as a nickel back, but the safeties were once again ravaged by injuries and a disappointment overall.

Inside the Numbers
According to coaches' review of the game tape, Payne finished second on the team in total tackles with 129 and cracked double digits on six occasions, even though he showed terrible technique at times and didn't wrap up consistently. Brown posted a respectable 101 tackles in 15 games, but he didn't make many of the game-changing plays that were his signature earlier in his career: just two interceptions, only four pass breakups, and zero fumbles forced or recovered. While rookie Craig Steltz sealed a 27-23 victory over the Lions in Week 9 by picking off a Dan Orlovsky pass to Calvin Johnson at the goal line with time running out, the fourth-round draft pick was solely on the field when Brown was nursing various injuries.

Thumbs Up
Payne showed the ability to contribute at both strong and free safety depending on where the coaching staff wanted to position Brown, but he was nothing more than adequate at either. In addition to his brilliance as a kick returner, Manning did some good things as the nickel defender and blitzed rather effectively. Steltz proved to be a solid special teamer, although his defensive play needs a lot of work.

Thumbs Down
Credit Brown with lasting as long as he did before finally surrendering to IR in Week 17, but he's just a shell of the player he used to be. Brandon McGowan continues to impress when he's on the field, which was a grand total of twice in 2008 after yet another season-ending injury. Steltz doesn't seem to have that proverbial nose for the football, as was his reputation in college at LSU.

2009 Preview
If a pass-rushing end is the top priority for the Bears on the defensive side of the ball this offseason, then a play-making safety is running a close second.


S Brandon McGowan
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Former head coach and Chicago legend Mike Ditka always reminds us that the past is for cowards and losers, so it's time to turn the page on Brown since his contract expired after this season and he's not what he once was. Payne would benefit from a permanent move to strong safety since he's deficient in terms of coverage skills, but switching Manning back to free safety might be unwise since he made yet another catastrophic mental error in the finale against Houston – allowing Andre Johnson to fun free like that was eerily reminiscent of the Reggie Wayne touchdown he allowed in Super Bowl XLI. McGowan might not be back since he's an unrestricted free agent for the first time, and Steltz doesn't inspire a lot of optimism going forward.

Spending major money in free agency for a big name like Oshiomogho Atogwe or Jermaine Phillips might be necessary, especially considering it's not a great draft for safeties this year – not with Taylor Mays of USC going back to school.

John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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