Sherrick McManis could be Bears veteran most challenged for roster spot

Gene Chamberlain

Of all the veterans on the Bears defense, defensive back Sherrick McManis might face the longest odds of making the roster.

Thursday's signing of cornerback Duke Shelley to his rookie contract only underscores the changes coming at McManis' position. It seems as if he's being crowded off the roster.

McManis, a 31-year-old 11-year veteran, is the longest tenured Bear, dating back to the Lovie Smith regime. Normally his role has been largely on special teams and then to fill in as either a cornerback or slot cornerback. His ability to do all of those has made him valuable on game day in case of injuries.

McManis' last play from scrimmage was trying unsuccessfully to prevent the game-winning touchdown pass by Nick Foles to Golden Tate in the playoff loss to Philadelphia, as injured nickel cornerback Bryce Callahan's replacement.

It wasn't typical of McManis' efforts in replacing Callahan.

In the 13 games Callahan started, the Bears defense gave up a passer rating of 73.21. In four games with McManis at nickel slot, counting the playoff loss to Philadelphia, the passer rating against was 73.16. There was a slight uptick on third-down conversions by opponents with Callahan gone and McManis on the field. The Bears gave up 34.4 percent when Callahan played and 36.5 percent with McManis on the field.

A factor working against McManis was how the Bears also lost safety Eddie Jackson for the final three games. It made the job harder for the entire secondary. McManis has one interception last year in four games as the slot corner and Callahan had two interceptions in 13 games.

Whether the Bears are planning for McManis only to be a safety and not a slot corner now remains to seen.

Buster Skrine is the new starting slot corner and it was made clear he is vying with Shelley for the spot, which seems to suggest McManis isn't part of the equation at that spot. Shelley hasn't played slot corner before because he was an outside corner in college.

Shelley made some inroads during minicamp and organized team activities, earning praise from coach Matt Nagy.

"He's twitchy, he's always going to be scrappy and be around you, so, and I think, he's learning from a great player in Buster," Nagy said. "They're very similar. But when those pads come on (at training camp) that's when it's really real, and that's when you've got to stick your nose in there and make a few tackles."

If McManis is a safety, he is vying with both Deon Bush and DeAndre Houston-Carson for playing time. While both are veterans, neither has made great impacts as backups. Bush did play effectively as Jackson's replacement for three games last year.

Where the Bears would have difficulty replacing McManis most might be on special teams. He has been a mainstay as a coverage man on kick teams and is a gunner on punt coverage.

New Bears receiver Marvin Hall is a gunner, but the Bears are already down one gunner with the loss of Josh Bellamy. Then again, Skrine has been a gunner before with the Jets, and Shelley has some special teams experience, too.

"I can run down on gunner and cover some guys," Shelley said. "I can run off on kickoff coverage. I can return kicks, return punts. I can do it all. I’m just filling that void wherever they need. I can come in and do that right away."

McManis' special teams abilities and versatility on defense might be a key in keeping him on the roster, but age and competition are working against him.