Three things Bears can do to ease Smith's angst

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Lovie Smith

      Lovie Smith Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Published8/25/2009 4:57 PM

With less than three weeks remaining until the start of the regular season, Sept. 13 in Green Bay, the Bears' Lovie Smith is experiencing the same angst as most NFL head coaches.

"It's really hard to be happy after the second preseason game," Smith said. "I know we made progress (in the second preseason game), and we did some good things. But I just don't think in the preseason you can ever be happy about anything that's going on. You have so far to go. Everything we do is about getting ready for the Packers.

 

"(It's) no time to pat ourselves on the back."

But there are at least three things Smith's team can accomplish Sunday night in Denver that would put a smile on his face.

1: Get healthier, especially in the secondary.

The Bears knew they'd be without their best cornerback, Charles Tillman, at least until the end of the preseason because of his mid-June back surgery. Tillman still hopes to play at Lambeau Field, and he's been able to handle some individual work, but he probably needs to be back on the practice field in the next week to have a shot at facing the Packers.

And, as if Tillman's questionable status weren't enough, free safety Danieal Manning and cornerback Zack Bowman, both of whom were playing well, suffered hamstring injuries earlier this month.

Both returned to the practice field on Monday. If they can both play vs. the Broncos, it would help clear up a defensive backfield that has become convoluted.

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"You would like for that first game of action not to be against Green Bay," Smith said. "We have a lot of work to do. They're (both) making progress. It's good getting them back on the (practice) field taking the first step."

Manning not only was the starter at free safety, but he was moving into the slot to play nickel back in passing situations, with Josh Bullocks or Craig Steltz taking his place at free safety.

But with Manning out, strong safety Kevin Payne has moved to free safety, and rookie Al Afalava took over at strong safety. And, because Corey Graham has had to fill in for Manning at nickel back, it left Nate Vasher and Trumaine McBride, neither of whom has played well, as the starting corners.

Tillman, Bowman and Graham are arguably the Bears' three best corners, yet none of them have started a preseason game there.

2: Have one of the backup wide receivers step up.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Devin Hester and Earl Bennett are set as the starters. But Rashied Davis (3 catches, 28 yards), Brandon Rideau (2 catches, 21 yards) and Devin Aromashodu (1 catch, 38 yards) are jockeying for the No. 3 spot ahead of rookies Juaquin Iglesias (2 catches, 33 yards) and Johnny Knox (2 catches, 22 yards).

"We've got a lot of guys making plays," Rideau said. "We're just trying to make it as hard as we can on the coaching staff who they're going to pick at the end."

None of them have taken the position by storm, but it would be nice if one of them emerged as the clear-cut winner.

"We've talked a lot about some of these guys having an opportunity," Smith said. "They have talent. They made plays when they got the opportunity."

But at least one of them needs to do more.

3: Get the turnover machine restarted.

It's just the preseason, but forcing turnovers is something Smith and all the defensive coaches preach constantly, even in practice. The Bears forced 3 vs. the Bills in the preseason opener, but they didn't get any against the Giants.

"It's not a good day for us if we don't get a takeaway," Smith said. "We need to tighten up some things."

The Bears forced 2 fumbles against the Giants but were unable to recover either one.

The Bears were No. 2 in the NFL last season with 32 takeaways. Since Lovie Smith arrived in 2004 the Bears have 172 takeaways, the most in the league, and they are 25-6 in games when they have more takeaways than turnovers.

• Tight end Fontel Mines and guard Tyler Reed were waived injured and free-agent linebacker Darrell McClover was signed. McClover was one of the Bears' top special-teams tacklers from 2006-08.

With less than three weeks remaining until the start of the regular season, Sept. 13 in Green Bay, the Bears' Lovie Smith is experiencing the same angst as most NFL head coaches.

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