Biggs: Bears change free safety for 19th time in 92 games

The Chicago Bears have changed starting quarterbacks like no other franchise since 1999.

But since the arrival of Lovie Smith in 2004, the team has had more turnover at safety than anywhere else. Change is in the air this week as Kevin Payne will replace Danieal Manning at free safety, the 19th change in starting free safeties in a span of 92 regular-season games, a dizzying pace of one switch every 4.8 games.

The Bears have swapped out strong safeties 17 times in that same span, turnover that was due in large part to the inability of ex-Bear Mike Brown to stay healthy. But to pin it solely on Brown would be unfair, and in the bigger picture it’s reflective of the team’s inability to find a playmaker in the secondary.

This change could be due to the fact the defense will face St. Louis’ Steven Jackson, the NFL’s second-leading rusher, Sunday at Soldier Field. Jackson has excelled, averaging 4.7 yards per carry, despite operating in the Rams’ woeful offense. At 1-10, St. Louis has trailed most of the season and yet the Rams’ passing game ranks only 22nd.

“No, I see nine in a box,’’ Jackson cracked when asked if he sees a lot of eight-man fronts.

Payne is a more rugged defender in the box than Manning, who Smith has called the most athletic member of the team. But Manning’s skill set hasn’t led him to make a lot of plays because his instincts haven’t put him in position to make a lot. He was caught out of position two weeks ago on DeSean Jackson’s long touchdown in a loss to Philadelphia.

Whether or not the Payne-for-Manning swap is for the remainder of the season remains to be seen. This much is certain, the next move won’t be far off. That’s just the way it goes.

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