In 2019, the Bears were comfortable heading into training camp with all of their offensive and defensive starters in place. Salary cap, draft capital, veteran signings, and confidence from the 2018 season all factored into deciding their starters early. With the starters decided, it made it easy to sit them during the preseason, which also unintentionally may have driven a less competitive atmosphere during training camp.
Matt Nagy has emphasized the importance of competition for the 2020 offseason. In my opinion, competition is a strong emphasis this offseason because the staff feels they became complacent last year, and know that will not drive success. With just under a month to go before training camp, it’s time to start looking at some of the specific battles for starting spots. This week, we’ll be looking at strong safety.
The most popular answer to the Bears need at strong safety is veteran free agent signing, Tashaun Gipson. In a recent interview, Buster Skrine echoed something I noticed while doing Gipson’s film study, his instincts. There is no doubt that Gipson will be a much needed leader in a young secondary. Someone with Gipson’s instincts has to imply his film study is on another level. He should be able to help younger players understand what a defense is trying to do to the secondary during film study, and on the field during live game action. This is something that will be a determining factor if the Bears staff have Gipson and Bush neck and neck at the end of training camp.
Gipson has all of the tools needed to play in the NFL, but he isn’t an abnormal athlete by any means. His instincts are what has made him a starting caliber safety in the NFL. For all but one year, Gipson was listed as a free safety. Last year in Houston, he made the switch to strong safety, where he did play well, but he also lacked some of the characteristics you’d want from a typical box safety. He is less of a downhill player and more sideline to sideline player, but most of all he doesn’t bring that ‘hit stick’ trait.
One thing we don’t know is what the Bears are thinking. Do they want use their safeties in the same way they did last year? They had two free safeties on the field and used them interchangeably. We know that Bears fan’s want a true box safety and to never see Eddie Jackson hovering around the line of scrimmage, but we don’t know exactly what the Bears want.
If the Bears prefer more of a box enforcer to start alongside Eddie Jackson in 2020, then Deon Bush has a legitimate shot at winning the spot. Deon Bush’s play style resembles Adrian Amos’, and Tashaun Gipson’s is more resemblant of Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix. I find that like Clinton-Dix, Gipson is a better overall player, but like Amos, Bush fits the defense better. Deon Bush is a little more rangy than Amos, and not as much of a glutton for contact, but he can still bring the boom, which is something I saw lacking in Gipson’s tape. Even though the Bears have rarely started Bush, they still thought he was worth a one-year deal, worth up to $1.4 million this offseason. Tashaun Gipson’s contract is only worth $1.05 million. This is due to multiple factors and I don’t think this should be a deciding factor on who starts, but I did think it was interesting Bush is getting paid more.
Even though Deon Bush hasn’t started much, we have had four years to watch him in preseason, training camp, on special teams, and in dime packages. The last couple preseasons he’s looked increasingly dominant, so it’s fair to say he’s a starting caliber player, but is he better than Gipson?
I think Deon Bush has the potential to be better, and is a better fit for the Bears defense. He has never really been granted the chance to take the starting job and run with it. Over the last couple years it seemed like the Bears would be comfortable with him as a starter, but then a price friendly veteran with more experience came along and took his spot. Is that the case again this year, or is the competition wide open?
In my opinion, Gipson has the edge, but because the Bears gave him less money than Deon Bush, it gives Bush a much fairer chance than when Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix was signed. It should be an entertaining battle to keep an eye on during training camp.