NEW ORLEANS — At 34, Darren Sharper would acknowledge he’s not the same player he was a decade ago, but veteran safeties always have a way of being around the ball.
So it was no surprise Sharper was there to scoop up a fumble by Arizona wide receiver Jerheme Urban on the Cardinals’ second possession, leading to New Orleans’ go-ahead score in the first quarter of the Saints’ 45-14 blowout victory Saturday.
Sharper, in his first season with the Saints, has been around the ball all season. He tied for the NFL lead with nine interceptions, returning three for touchdowns, and was named a starter in the Pro Bowl for the fifth time.
To think the Bears went through another season of rotating safeties when they had an opportunity to sign Sharper in free agency.
“You know how long ago that was?” Sharper said. “What do they run up there? Cover 2? It would have been a good opportunity but I am not surprised. They know who I was and I played in that division for so long. To make a run at me, it’s not up to me to say whether they should have done that or not.”
The Bears have to find a consistent pass rusher, that is their clear No. 1 issue to address during the offseason. Working to settle the situation in the back half, at safety, has to be their second order of business.
Sharper wasn’t going to get the Bears younger as Mike Brown left via free agency. But he might have made them better after he spent four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings following eight in Green Bay with the Packers.
“I wasn’t going to command huge money,” Sharper said. “I think the front office is a good place to ask that. Chicago is a place that has great fans and everything, but the fans here I am loving a lot and I am glad I came down here.
“I’m loving Gregg Williams’ defense because it allows playmakers to be playmakers. It takes the handcuffs (of the Cover 2) off.”
Williams had experience with two talented safeties when he ran the defense in Washington, utilizing the late Sean Taylor and LaRon Landry. The free safety is a difficult position to fill. Just ask Lovie Smith and Jerry Angelo. It’s hard to find athletic players who can run in coverage and lend a hand in run support and the responsibilities, at least for the Bears, have led to an abundance of injuries. But they’ve also misidentified players and tried twice to make Danieal Manning fit in the role.
“You know what, a lot of people don’t know the free safety position takes on a lot of responsibilities,” Sharper said. “A lot of people want to get younger. But there are so many things you need to think about as a free safety whether it is calling a defense, with the angles approaching the football, playing the ball as a deep half player, you know there are adjustments you have to make and it can be tough for younger guys to do that. That’s why you see Brian Dawkins still playing in the league. Guys of that stature, guys that have been around and seen a lot of things, that is why they are still able to play at a high level.”
That’s precisely why the Bears stuck with Brown as long as they did, waiting for him to return from multiple season-ending injuries.
“Mike was a good player for them,” Sharper said. “He could have still been playing for them except for the injury problems that he had. He was a great player for them, always came up with big plays and always was in the right spot.”
Photo: Darren Sharper celebrates after breaking up a pass play against the Cardinals. (Chris Graythen / Getty Images)
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