The NFL hopefuls participating in this weekend’s rookie minicamp aren’t the only new players that Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has to familiarize himself with this offseason.
The Chicago secondary likely will have at least three new starters after general manager Ryan Pace signed safety Quintin Demps and cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper in free agency.
Demps, who turns 32 in June, has played nine NFL seasons with the Eagles (2008-09), Texans (2011-12 and 2015-16), Chiefs (2013) and Giants (2014). A late bloomer, he didn’t make his first NFL start until his sixth season in the league with Kansas City. Demps has recorded 15 of his 18 career interceptions the past four years, including six in 13 games last year with Houston.
“It’s always good to have a veteran if he can play his position good,” Fangio said Saturday during rookie minicamp. “He had a nice year last year in Houston and hopefully he’ll be able to do some of the same stuff for us this year. It’s good to have a veteran if the guy’s a commander and a leader back there and we’ll find out if that’s true.”
Amukamara, who turns 28 in June, arrives after playing six seasons with the Giants (2011-15) and Jaguars (2016). He failed to record an interception last year for the first time in his career after registering seven in his first five seasons.
“This is his third team in three years, so he’s been around,” Fangio said. “I thought he played better last year than he had earlier in his career and hopefully he’ll be able to continue that here and maybe play his best. He should be in his prime.
“He can run. He’s got good speed; he always has. He’s become a veteran player who understands football better than he did when he first came into the league, so we’ll see.”
Cooper, 27, has appeared in 53 NFL games with 24 starts over four seasons with the Chiefs (2013-15) and Cardinals (2016), recording 130 tackles, seven interceptions and 32 pass breakups.
He switched from receiver to cornerback his final year at Rutgers and was still inexperienced at the position when the 49ers selected him in the seventh round of the 2013 draft. He showed potential while working with Fangio as his defensive coordinator in San Francisco but ultimately failed to make the 53-man roster.
“I don’t remember a whole lot other than we liked him,” Fangio said. “It came down to the last cut, either him or another rookie. The other guy was a better special-teams player, so we kept him. We were going to put Coop on our practice squad, but he got picked up by Kansas City.
“I don’t remember a lot other than he’s got length. He’s had some good days in the NFL since then. But this is his fourth team in five years, so hopefully he can settle in and this can be a home for him.”
Cooper enjoyed a breakout season with the Cardinals last year, setting career highs with 15 games played, 13 starts, 69 tackles and four interceptions. He returned one of the picks for his first career touchdown and added a team-high 11 pass breakups.
“He got a lot of action,” Fangio said. “[Six-time Pro Bowler Patrick] Peterson was playing the other side. [Cooper] had to play a lot out there because of injuries so he got a lot of playing time, a lot of balls his way. He broke up his fair share of them, got some picks, but he saw a lot of action so he’s battle-tested. Obviously you’re going to get beat some and make some plays, so hopefully he’s ready for his career to take off a little bit.”
The Bears also addressed their secondary in the draft, selecting Alabama safety Eddie Jackson in the fourth round. Still recovering from a broken leg that ended his season last October, Jackson is participating only in individual drills in rookie minicamp.
Jackson appeared in 41 games with 37 starts over four seasons with the Crimson Tide, registering 130 tackles, nine interceptions, 13 pass breakups, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. He also returned two of 11 punts for touchdowns last year as a senior.
“He’s got good ball skills,” Fangio said. “He’s shown the ability to be a good pass defender in college. We’ll see how he tackles in the NFL—that will be something that he’s going to have to show that he can do because you’ve got to be able to tackle, all 11 guys. Hopefully he’ll stay healthy, get healthy here and he’s in the mix with those other guys.”
Fangio is eager to work with all of the new players in the secondary and on the rest of the defense. But he’s not ready to make any proclamations about how much better the unit will be compared to last season.
“That remains to be seen,” he said. “We’ve got to go through all these OTAs, go through training camp and see what happens in the games. I’m not one to predict that it’s going to be this or that. We’ve got to see.”
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