It sounds fair when the Bears claim there’s a positional battle in battle in training camp. But don’t be fooled.
What it really means is the Bears haven’t flat given the starting job to someone, or they aren’t protecting a supposedly fragile player the way they told free-agent quarterbacks they wouldn’t be allowed to compete with Rex Grossman.
So, the Bears declared actual competition this year at cornerback between Zack Bowman and Tim Jennings.
“The best man plays,’’ defensive backs coach Jon Hoke said, and wait, I forgot, there’s a third reason the Bears have a positional battle: The “best man’’ to play corner opposite Charles Tillman probably isn’t on the roster yet.
Bowman can’t stay healthy. Jennings seems to be out of position frequently. Those are the Bears’ choices right now because quality, game-changing corners seemed to go everywhere except Halas Hall.
Starting with Nnamdi Asomugha, nine of the top 50 or so free agents were cornerbacks. Three re-signed with their old teams. Six went to new teams. Nobody new, good or game-changing came to the Bears despite the team’s apparent pile of salary cap space.
This situation isn’t as scary as the offensive line. This position also isn’t as sexy as wide receiver.
Nope, this specific spot won’t seem to mean much until New Orleans’ Lance Moore gets loose for the decisive touchdown because Tillman is covering Marques Colston.
Many NFL teams value cornerbacks more than the Bears do. In coach Lovie Smith’s Tampa-2 base defense, the most important position is the undertackle that Tommie Harris used to dominate. Next comes strong safety, then weakside linebacker. If the undertackle leads pressure from the front four, then the defense has seven men in coverage instead of isolating a corner.
Of course, such regular pressure is more of a concept than a reality, which requires blitzing, which creates holes in the base scheme, which leaves a corner singled up, which leads to extreme pottymouth.
If you collect shutdown corners and big-play corners the way a lot of teams do, you can blitz relentlessly and seemingly without fear. If you’re the Bears, you sort of hold your breath and light candles.
Oh, and you hold an open competition, which is code for “More sacks, Julius.’’