Making seven selections in the draft this year without picking a strong safety left some Bears fans scratching their heads. Especially when a guy like Geno Stone somehow slides all the way down to the seventh round. That was at least until a few days ago when the team signed veteran safety Tashaun Gipson to a contract for the upcoming 2020 season. Add Deon Bush and Stephen Denmark and now we have the makings of some pretty healthy competition for the starting slot. That still leaves us with a couple of questions. Did they bring Gipson in to be the immediate starter? Do they prefer to go with the Chicago-bred defensive back who has looked serviceable at worst in Bush? Or maybe the physical specimen they’ve been developing on the practice squad since he was picked in the seventh round of the 2019 draft in Stephen Denmark? What are the pros and cons of each of them? Let’s take a look.
Gipson brings a lot more to the table than simply being a veteran safety. That alone would make you think he’s leading the race between the three competitors, and he probably is. But, that doesn’t mean he has crossed the finish line just yet. From the dawn of his career, he had to prove himself. After going undrafted in 2012, the Browns picked him up and it took him a year to become the starter. He quickly developed into a very good player without many flaws in his game. His 23 career interceptions alone prove that he’s a playmaker. The 2018 Bears went 12-4 and made it to the postseason partially due to takeaways. They easily led the league that year in turnovers. Yet, when that number dropped in 2019 they went 8-8. Gipson’s play-making ability can help lead us back to their 2018 form. His talent doesn’t end in the air either. He is terrific against the run, and a great tackler, which is a critical skill set for a safety to have.
Gipson has started in every game he’s played in since 2014. With the exception of his one year stint with the Texans last season, and in 2017 with the Jaguars, those starts were at free safety. A throne that All-Pro FS, Eddie Jackson rightfully sits in. When we brought in Ha Ha Clinton-Dix on a one-year, prove-it deal last season, the situation was akin to this. Because Clinton-Dix was also previously a FS converted to strong safety, it put us in a bit of a predicament. Eddie Jackson almost shifted to more of a SS role, refraining him from being the ballhawk, game altering playmaker that he is. It wasn’t a coincidence that Jackson only had two interceptions in 2019 next to Ha-Ha, while having triple that amount the season before next to a true SS in Adrian Amos. It’s not always easy for a player to make that transition. With two years under his belt at the position the Bears need him to play, us fans can certainly be optimistic that Ryan Pace made the right call.
Ryan Pace has a long list of hits on picks later in the draft, and they’re often defensive players. Deon Bush is certainly apart of that list. He’s by no means an elite talent, but for a fourth round safety he is amazing depth to have. He has proven that before, like when Eddie Jackson went down for a few games in 2018, and he was the next man up. He played quite well while in Jackson’s shoes. While the team did miss their star safety, he wasn’t anything close to a liability on the field. Although he isn’t a game changer, he’s decent in coverage and isn’t one to give up big plays often. He’s shown flashes of being a great player. This past preseason he had a pair of interceptions, one of which he took 91-yards to the house. He has pretty good form while tackling as well. Because he has proven his worth, stepped up when needed, and has the most experience in this defense of all three competitors, he definitely has a shot at being the guy.
As alluded to earlier, Bush has spent the entirety of his four-year career as a backup. He has only eight starts since being drafted in 2016. His lack of experience may make Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano more inclined to go with the vet in a season with little room for mistakes.
When Denmark was selected in the seventh round of the 2019 NFL draft, he was very raw. He was selected because he is a physical freak with a ton of upside. While standing at 6’3″ and weighing nearly 220 pounds, he still runs a 4.42 second 40 yard dash. We’ve stashed him on the practice squad last year with hopes that he will develop into a real talent. Only the coaching staff knows where he is at in his development, but if it is going well he may turn into a force. If we do see him starting over the other two, it would be exciting. Deon Bush and Tashaun Gipson are both very solid players, and if he’s above them on the depth charts, that means he grew tremendously as a player. This late round flier may end up paying off.
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Obviously Denmark has the least amount of experience of the three. He’s yet to play a snap for the team in the regular season. You don’t expect much from seventh rounders, as they usually need to be refined quite a bit. This may still be the case for him, and he could spend another year on the practice squad to work on the skills God didn’t give him naturally.
With the new addition of Tashaun Gipson, one of the only remaining holes on the Bears roster is filled. The veteran is likely to take the cake, but there is certainly no lack of depth. Stephen Denmark is a dark horse candidate if the developing process went smoothly with him. Close behind Gipson is Deon Bush as he has proven himself to be a serviceable piece in this defense in the past. Bears fans seem to be comfortable with him if he were to start. We will see how they battle in camp (if there is a camp) for the right to play next to Eddie Jackson every Sunday.