Smith: We need to improve at safety

Updated: February 26, 2010, 2:47 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith can't name specific free agents the team is interested in until free agency officially starts March 5, but he did address one position in particular the team needs to focus on in the offseason: safety.

"We need to improve the safety position, period," he said Friday at the NFL combine. "I haven't been pleased with the production we've gotten. I think we had one interception from the safety position. That's one reason why I think our takeaways were down a little bit this year."

Smith tried to mix and match safeties all season, with little success. Rookie Al Afalava parlayed a nice training camp into a starting opportunity, and was a tough tackler, but ultimately wasn't memorable playing both safety spots. Danieal Manning and Kevin Payne lost starting jobs at different points. Craig Steltz and Josh Bullocks got some playing time and weren't terrible.

Arizona's Antrel Rolle might be available, along with veteran Darren Sharper, coming off his Super Bowl win.

"We need to invest a little bit more at the safety position," Smith said. "We've hit well on some lower picks, but sometimes you need to invest a little more in free agency or higher draft picks."

Smith also said the team would be comfortable with a young safety because of the veteran nature of the defense. This draft is reportedly very deep at cornerback.

"We need a good player there, period," Smith said.

With Adewale Ogunleye a free agent, and the tragic loss of Gaines Adams, improving the defensive line is a priority. Smith can't say if the team is seriously pursuing unrestricted free agent Julius Peppers, but he did reiterate that little-used reserves like Henry Melton and Jarron Gilbert will get a shot.

"We think we have some guys who can rush the passer on our ballclub right now," he said. "We'll look at everyone available There are some pass rushers out there, if they come available. This time of year we're trying to get a better player at every position."

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.