According to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune, the Bears have changed starting safeties 41 times since Lovie Smith arrived in 2004, with a near-even split between the two positions.
Twenty-one times the starting free safety has changed from one game to the next, and 20 times the starting strong safety has changed. That either means that you are compensating one talent for another position or you don't have the talent to "successfully" man that position.
Lovie Smith cites injuries and the difficulty of keeping players healthy at the position for much of the turnover. One can not argue the impact that Mike Brown's health had on that statistic. A good portion of the change occurred when the Bears were forced to go to the bench each year once-- like clockwork-- Mike Brown would go down.
Angelo's answer was to bring in Danieal Manning in 2006 to be the future at the position. Manning had all of the physical talents you would want in a FS. He was strong, very quick, and a good tackler coming out of Abilene-Christian. What happened between his draft and today has been a miriade of positional moves, public benchings (mid game pulls), and a lack of guidance. Mike Brown called Manning the most "athletic player" on the football team in 2008. THis might be true, but his understanding of the C2 system and lack of coverage skills have left many Bears fans with something to be desired.
There has been speculation the team could make a run at O.J. Atogwe. Atogwe is sitting out the Rams' voluntary offseason workout program after being slapped with the low tender offer by the club.
But the Bears making a run at Atogwe is only speculation at this point. Personally, I think the Bears believe that they can get one of the many talented safeties in the 3rd round of this year's draft. Providing not only a better, younger, CHEAPER option at the position, but competition at the position for the former 2006 2nd round draft pick.
I emphasize Manning's role with the team because I STILL think he is Jerry Angelo's choice to fill the role of FS for the Chicago Bears. I think commitment and motivation to be better than "his better" has been his downfall. An analysis of the playing time statistics from 2009 shows that Lovie was trying to get Manning snaps, but at the expense of learning his natural position. Danieal Manning played both free safety and nickel cornerback, but a chunk of his overall playing time actually was as a nickel corner and not at safety.
To make matters worse, Manning has been told he will be moved to SS in the 2010 season, which might play to his athleticism and lack of coverage skills (at the present time). He would be brought more in to the box to stop the run, smack the receivers over the middle, and cover the blindside receiver over the top. However...
... That moves Al Afalava, who showed a glimpse of competancy at the position in 2009, to FS or behind a a Josh Bullocks or new FS via draft. Not to mention what do you do with Kevin Payne? Craig Stelz?
This just goes to show you how LONG this position has been a concern of the team. Combine that with the inconsistent play of the corners and you have a real mess in teh secondary, which can not be corrected with increased pressure from the front four. In a day and age where teams are using more spread formations with BIG athletic receivers, its NECESSARY to have athletic ball-hawking corners on your team.
The Bears have none.
And have had "none" since 2007.
Its a problem and the Bears have to look at how to fix it with a LONG-TERM solution.
With a number of good-to-great safeties in the draft this year, I am hoping that THIS is the emphasis for the Chicago Bears in 2010 Draft. If not, I just don't think a Julius Peppers or him and 3 clones could make a difference in making the pass defense any better.