Bears backups used to starting
Down goes safety Mike Brown, in steps Danieal Manning, who has started 85 percent (17 of 20) of his NFL games.
Down goes defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek, in comes Darwin Walker, who has started 85.23 percent (75 of 88) of his time in the league.
When Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo decided to address depth at various positions in the offseason, little did he know it would become so important so soon.
Knowing Brown’s injury history – he hasn’t played a full season since 2003 — Angelo also dealt for starting safety Adam Archuleta in the offseason. Angelo knew he had Manning, who started 17 of 19 games as a rookie last season after Brown got hurt then.
Walker was acquired from Buffalo during training camp, with most observers figuring he’d work his way into a starting position in time anyway.
No one is expecting Manning to play like Brown, a former Pro Bowler. But he adds an element of speed that the veteran Brown, 29, didn’t have. And Walker’s seven years of experience with Arizona and Philadelphia far exceeds Dvoracek’s NFL career – one game.
Few teams enjoy such luxury. And the Bears still have backups behind them that could prove capable. Brandon McGowan and rookie Kevin Payne are in reserve at safety. Veteran linemen Anthony Adams, a free agent signed from San Francisco, and Antonio Garay, elevated from the practice squad, are battle-tested.
Walker doesn’t figure his playing time noticeably will increase.
I think I played a lot (at San Diego), just like I expected," he said. "It should remain pretty much the same for the most part. We were rotating me and Tommie (Harris) and Dusty every series. I’m sure we’ll have a good rotation this week (at home Sunday against Kansas City). I’m excited.
"I didn’t anticipate playing any less than the way we did it last week, and I don’t expect it to be any different this week."
Pressed on the issue, Walker said, "I played a lot. I don’t know if you guys watched the game or not. I made a few plays, if you all noticed it. Dang! I played a lot. I’d venture to say I might have played as much or more than the starters.
"The way I look at it, we had three starters. We rolled guys in and out. I didn’t consider the situation competition. We just played together."
Whether he’s on the field for the first defensive snap doesn’t matter to Walker.
"My job is to go out and do my best when I’m in the game," he said. "The coaches will handle the rotations accordingly. Last week, I played as much as I’ve played in any game."
Manning kept a positive attitude during his demotion back to reserve during the offseason. He tried to prepare himself to be ready just in case.
Just in case just happened again.
"I’ve got to get out there and have fun," he said. "That’s what it is. That’s what they drafted me for, to make plays."
Something he feels he’s in better position to provide with a full year in the system.
"I can do more by instinct now," he said. "The first year you’ve got to do a lot more thinking, making sure you’re in the right position.
"Now I have a chance to make plays if they put you in the right position. You know when you’re in the right position. It’s going to be a lot of fun."
Manning said Brown told him, "The main thing was, ‘have fun. You’re here for a reason.’"
Harris said "it’s difficult to play without him" regarding Dvoracek. "I will adjust. All he has to do is rehab and get back out there."
Harris is "confident" the team can replace two starters, although "it’s hard."
"Mike Brown is like a defensive coordinator in a helmet, so that guys know the defense, so the secondary is secured at all times. It’s difficult playing without him. I hope he rehabs also.
"Danieal can jump right in. He’s comfortable. He seems more mature at his position. I feel confident in Danieal also.
"It doesn’t matter how good you are as an individual. But when you come together, do you mesh as a team? That’s what we’re trying to do now. Everybody’s trying to click together, learn each other’s personality and the way we play. And then we’ll be able to play well together once we get that down pat."
Linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer said it’s a situation "we’ve dealt with before," as the Bears learned to live without Brown and Harris down the stretch last season.
"A lot of teams do everything they can to get their 1’s ready. I think our coaches do a great job of developing depth," he said. "I mean the twos and threes and all down the line, they all get enough plays throughout practice and preseason games that they know what’s going on.
"Danieal has started before. He’s not going to just come in and try to keep up with what’s going on. He knows how to make plays, he has confidence in his ability you’d like to think. You aren’t going to replace a guy like Mike, but he’ll be able to come in and play football instead of thinking about what’s going on."
Hillenmeyer said the team "doesn’t really know their personalities that well yet" of Manning and Walker.
"Darwin’s history has shown he’s great pass rusher. He’s one of those penetrating defensive linemen who fits real well in our scheme, and hopefully he continues to do that," he said.
"The coaches have a lot of confidence in (Manning), which means he must be doing something right. He had a great season for a rookie last year, to show the development he did over the course of the year."
Reed Schreck is the NFL writer for the Rockford Register Star. Contact him at 815-987-1381 or firstname.lastname@example.org.