Bears Preaching Competition In Secondary

"You never want to give somebody their job," assistant Deshea Townsend says.

Chris Emma
June 19, 2020 - 9:52 am
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(670 The Score) When Bears secondary coach Deshea Townsend gets his defensive backs on the field for the first time, competition will be the theme.

The Bears have two starting spots up for grabs in the secondary, one at safety and one at cornerback. Though veteran Tashaun Gipson appears to be the favorite to start at safety and second-round pick Jaylon Johnson should have an edge at cornerback, Townsend isn't looking at it that way.

"The one thing I just want everybody to clear of," Townsend said on a teleconference Thursday. "When I talk to my guys and what I believe in my room is nothing is handed to you, and I don't want anybody to feel that something is handed.

"We need to change that narrative. You never want to give somebody their job." 

Before the NFL Draft in late April, the Bears yet hadn't signed Gipson or selected Johnson. In Townsend's mind, those two players enhance the competitions in the secondary. The Bears do have a pair of Pro Bowl players locked into starting roles in safety Eddie Jackson and cornerback Kyle Fuller, but there will be position battles to start alongside those two.

The Bears have a number of veteran safeties poised to compete for the role vacated by Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who signed with the Cowboys in March. The 27-year-old Deon Bush, a fourth-round pick of the Bears in 2016, is returning for his fifth season after agreeing to a one-year deal this offseason. Bush has started eight career games. Veterans Kentrell Brice and Jordan Lucas are each in the mix as well.

The starter next to Jackson will likely be which player best complements him. Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano acknowledged he plans to let Jackson play more free safety this season. To do so, he needs the right safety complement.

"I got to let Eddie be Eddie and put him in those spots to let him go play," Pagano said.

The Bears also have a spot to fill at cornerback after releasing Prince Amukamara in a cap-clearing move. Amukamara, 31, had been the starter since 2017.

Kevin Toliver, who has started a pair of games in his first two NFL seasons, is among the returning cornerbacks vying for the starting job. Second-year cornerbacks Duke Shelley and Stephen Denmark will also get the opportunity to compete. 

Beyond them, the Bears also signed two others this offseason in former Canadian Football League star Tre Roberson and 2016 first-round pick Artie Burns.

"The plays that he was able to play in Canada, those are things that are natural, those are things that you can’t teach," Townsend said of Roberson. "For me, I’m excited to get a chance to see him move around, see his natural playmaking ability and see if I can help mold him."

As the NFL's 32 teams conducted their offseason programs virtually this spring, competitions like those in the Bears secondary were put on hold. The league is planning to hold its training camps as scheduled in late July.

For the Bears, their position battles can begin in earnest when they take the field at Halas Hall.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.