The overwhelming majority of Bears Twitter has been calling for a 'box' safety all offseason long. It didn't matter if it came through the draft or free agency, everyone just wants to see Eddie Jackson playing centerfield again.
As we know, the Bears didn't invest much in the position outside of Jackson's contract. Earlier in the offseason, the Bears gave Jordan Lucas a one-year, $1 million deal and most recently gave Tashaun Gipson a similar contract. The Lucas signing didn't generate much steam, but after Gipson was signed people reasonably slotted him in as the starter alongside Eddie Jackson. Gipson is an eight-year veteran who has started for most of his career, and Lucas has been a backup all four years he's been in the NFL. There's no doubt Gipson is a quality starter and the Bears acquired him for backup money, so kudos to Ryan Pace. The question is, is he the 'box' safety the fanbase is longing for?
Before answering that question, there are a few things that need to be addressed. First, throwback strong safeties like John Lynch no longer exist. The NFL's playing style continues to evolve, and the 'box' safety role has evolved with it. The closest thing to a true strong safety in the NFL currently is Landon Collins.
While many fans want to see a more traditional 'box' safety, is that what the Bears want? Last year, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was signed because the Bears wanted to be versatile at the position. Essentially, Chuck Pagano said he wanted to use the safeties interchangeably. Even though we saw Jackson in the 'box' more than he ever should be in 2019, he was still used as a traditional free safety. It was a combination of more snaps in the box, time of possession, and decreased opportunities that led to a decrease in Jackson's production. The Bears played with a lead much more often in 2018. This led to more pass attempts, more rushing opportunities, and more pressures, which leads to more mistakes.
Let's assume that the Bears see what most fans see and use Eddie Jackson primarily as a free safety. Will Tashaun Gipson be able to come in and fill that role?
Gipson has primarily been a free safety throughout his career. The only time he was labeled as a team's strong safety was last year with the Houston Texans. Justin Reid was primarily at the free safety spot, but the Texans did also occasionally use both Reid and Gipson interchangeably. Gipson played a majority of his snaps as the 'box' safety and even intercepted three passes last year. Even though it's a small sample size, Gipson's tape shows he can be used interchangeably, or more importantly as a 'box safety.'
0:00 - Tashaun Gipson's instincts are immediately noticeable. At the beginning of the play, he calls out a play and communicates it with the linebackers. As soon as the ball is snapped, he reads and reacts to the underneath route and stops it for a minimal gain. The most important aspect of this play is that it shows Gipson watches tape.
0:12 - Plays like this are beautiful in their simplicity. Once again, Gipson's instincts are evident right away. He doesn't bite on the play fake whatsoever and instantly starts following the quarterback as he rolls out. After the short completion is made, Gipson instantly makes a break on the ball and finishes the tackle.
0:24 - Gipson isn't going to float around the line of scrimmage and be a thumper, but he is willing to go into a pile and mix it up occasionally. Again, his football IQ is on display here. The ball is snapped, he sees the tight end pull, and he instantly heads toward the cutback lane. He doesn't take the easy way and go underneath the block, he stays in his lane and fights through the gap, eventually having to help out and make the play.
0:00 - This clip is yet another great example of Tashaun Gipson's instincts. An underneath man coverage is in place with safety help over the top. Before the snap, Gipson processes the offensive personnel and understands that the only threat to his zone is off your screen on the right side. As soon as the ball is snapped, the quarterback tries to look Gipson off, but he doesn't bite. He takes a beeline to where the quarterback wants to go with the ball and is able to cut off the route for an easy interception.
Obviously, all of Gipson's tape isn't perfect. If that were the case, he would have been a priority free agent. When bigger running backs are carrying the ball, Gipson tends to let them come to him as opposed to moving up and trying to stick them. He can also fall victim to box out receptions by tight ends and bigger receivers, but there's a reason he's an eight-year vet and seven-year starter. If it wasn't already evident, his football IQ is off the charts.
Tashaun Gipson may not be the ideal box safety, but he is capable of filling that role for the Chicago Bears' defense in 2020. He may be the starter or a quality backup who competes for a starting spot in training camp. The Bears still have time to acquire more players, but more importantly, Deon Bush is still on the roster. The Bears were looking to Bush to be their starter in 2019 before the Ha Ha Clinton-Dix opportunity emerged. Bush also plays more like a traditional 'box' safety, and he's actually slotted to make about $200K more than Tashaun Gipson in 2020. Gipson's experience will probably help land him the starting role, but fans shouldn't sleep on Deon Bush.