Bears' schemes play to Archuleta's strengths

8/20/2007 - Chicago Bears

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Some things you simply would not do.

You wouldn't make Peyton Manning run the option.

You wouldn't hire Norv Turner to coordinate your defense.

You wouldn't expect an in-the-box safety to excel in a secondary favoring man-coverage principles. You would not, but the Washington Redskins briefly did, and suddenly Adam Archuleta had trouble justifying his $30 million contract.

The fit was never right. The Redskins benched Archuleta after the first seven games last season, then traded him to Chicago for a sixth-round draft choice.

Significant changes to the Bears' offense have commanded headlines from camp this summer. Archuleta was one of the few additions on defense, and he is potentially an important one.

Adam Archuleta


Chicago Bears


Coach Lovie Smith moved Archuleta into the lineup at strong safety, sliding Mike Brown to free safety at the expense of 2006 starter Danieal Manning. The Bears lost speed but gained experience. They also expect to be better against the run and when rushing the passer.

Archuleta wasn't always a free-agent bust. He provided St. Louis with five sacks, six passes defensed and a fumble return for a touchdown in 2003, Smith's final season as the Rams' defensive coordinator. The Rams became a blitz-happy defense that season as Smith modified the Cover 2 approach he learned from Tony Dungy in Tampa.

There were also times when opponents exploited Archuleta in coverage by getting him matched against quicker slot receivers.
It's a tradeoff the Bears plan to minimize. That seemed obvious during one of the final full practices before camp broke late last week.

Two plays stood out.

The first was a pass over the middle to tight end Desmond Clark. Archuleta was closing hard and probably could have leveled Clark. It didn't matter. Brian Urlacher dropped deep enough in coverage to tip away the pass. Having one of the NFL's most athletic middle linebackers means the Bears don't always need tight coverage from their safeties.

The second instructive play thrilled an overflow crowd at Olivet Nazarene University. Devin Hester sprinted through the secondary for a long touchdown grab, amplifying the sexiest story line of camp. While Hester was running past Brown and cornerback Nathan Vasher, Archuleta was covering Clark on an underneath route.

Opponents will try harder to exploit Archuleta downfield.

The Bears face tight ends Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten in the first three weeks of the season. Week 4 brings a date with Detroit and Mike Martz, the former Rams coach who knows Archuleta better than any offensive coordinator in the league.

I've had some adversity ever since I've been playing football, but at the end of the day it's always worked out for me. You never know how it's going to happen, but I'm here, I'm in a great situation and I couldn't ask for anything more.

Adam Archuleta

"The one thing I'll say about Adam, his DB skills are better now than I remember them being in St. Louis," said Bears defensive coordinator Bob Babich, who coached the Rams' linebackers in 2003. "I'm talking about deep third, deep half, those things, where he has really looked good this camp."

Archuleta never looked good in Washington. The Redskins limited him mostly to special teams the second half of the season.

"I learned to play in this defense reading the quarterback and breaking on the football," Archuleta said. "That was more of a man principle [in Washington], where my eyes were on the receiver a lot, playing routes more, things of that nature, which I wasn't used to.

"Not that you can't do it, but I just really wasn't used to it and I had a hard time with it."

The Redskins run one of the most complex defensive systems in the league. The Bears run one of the simpler ones. The Redskins demand more in coverage from their defensive backs. Both systems have produced top-10 defensive rankings.

"I know there are players who have grown up and learned in that system and probably feel the same way in that system as I do here," Archuleta said. "But what I do well as a player is make fast decisions and keep things as simple as possible and just play hard."

A Bears assistant worked at length with Archuleta on technique after a recent practice. They went over footwork and angles -- details, not concepts.

"The way I was taught, and the way I excelled in the Cover 2 defense, I had to learn it in a different way that was completely unnatural [in Washington]," Archuleta said. "So you end up playing like a robot and you end up playing like a rookie and you end up playing like a guy who can't play because you are not doing what makes you a football player.

"Some of that is my fault by focusing too much and trying to be perfect and trying to do everything the way they wanted it instead of sticking to what I believe in and playing the way I play football."

Archuleta and the Redskins resemble strangers who sobered up and regretted leaving the bar together. They'll face off in a Thursday night game at FedEx Field on Dec. 6. Ah, the memories.

"I've had some adversity ever since I've been playing football, but at the end of the day it's always worked out for me," Archuleta said. "You never know how it's going to happen, but I'm here. I'm in a great situation and I couldn't ask for anything more."

Mike Sando covers the NFL for ESPN.com.