Bears better have a safety plan

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Bears general manager Jerry Angelo has been known to spout off his fair share of gaffes, but they typically involve misused or butchered idioms and metaphors. Occasionally, he’ll say things about his coaches or players that leave you scratching your head, but his recent comments about the Bears’ safety position are downright frightening.

“Right now we would be comfortable starting with the present cast of players at the position,” Angelo said a little over a week ago in an interview on Angelo then went on to point out the organization’s faith in Danieal Manning, Craig Steltz, Al Afalava, Kevin Payne, and Josh Bullocks. I’m not so sure any of those players would start for any other team in the league and a few of them might not even make some rosters.

Unusual comments are always made around this time of the year in the prelude to the draft, leaving some hope that what Angelo had said about the safety position was nothing more than a traditional smokescreen. After all, both Angelo and Lovie Smith identified safety as their top priority when the off-season began. Additionally, another excuse for Angelo’s vote of confidence might be that he didn’t want to offend the safeties already on the team by essentially saying they’re not good enough to play, but I don’t buy that excuse. Those guys are professionals and criticism comes with the territory.

Manning is the only player on the roster with the physical tools to play free safety but has lacked the mental game since being drafted in the second round of the 2006 draft. What’s confounding is that the Bears have said they’ll try out Manning this year at strong safety, the only position that the other aforementioned players are capable of playing. What that creates is a logjam at strong safety and a glaring weakness at free safety.

There were a handful of veteran free safeties available on the free agent market, but in the midst of their wild spending spree, they couldn’t find the right fit for their team. That left them with the small hope of drafting a free safety that could start immediately, or at least be a significant contributor. The 2010 draft class is deep at the safety position, but the Bears found themselves without a first- or second-round pick, meaning most of the top safeties would be gone by the time the Bears’ pick in the third round came.

Only two safeties were taken Thursday night, a bit of a surprise and a stark contrast from the five that Angelo had said he could see being selected in the first round. The possibility of trading up into the second round to select one of the top remaining safeties could be even more intriguing to Angelo on Friday night than it was before the draft had started.

If the Bears can somehow move up into the second round to take a safety, my desire would be that they select Nate Allen from South Florida. The guy is intelligent, studious — he’s a fixture in the film room — and will get his teammates in the secondary lined up properly. He’s the kind of leader who can make adjustments that the Bears have not had in the defensive backfield since they parted ways with Mike Brown.

The Bears have little ammunition to work with, though, as Angelo has said he will not trade any more future draft picks unless a good, unexpected deal warrants such a move. The possibility of trading Greg Olsen or a linebacker such as Jamar Williams remains on the table, but is probably unlikely at this point.

If the Bears want to roll the dice and hope that a good safety falls into their laps at pick No. 75 in the third round, that’s their choice. But when it comes to gambling with their 2010 season — and Lovie Smith’s job — with the possibility of starting any combination of the safeties currently on the roster, there are no dice, there is no table, and they’re not even in the casino, in my eyes. Such a decision would be foolish and would negate any positive momentum the Bears have made this off-season with their free agent moves and coaching hires.

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