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Training camp position preview: Defensive backs

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The following is the final of eight position previews in advance of training camp.

The Bears secondary that hits the practice field this week in Bourbonnais will feature two All-Pros in cornerback Kyle Fuller and safety Eddie Jackson.

Last season Fuller tied for the NFL lead with a career-high seven interceptions, the most by a Bears player since Tim Jennings led the league with nine in 2012. Fuller also topped the NFL with 21 pass breakups and leads the league with 43 the past two seasons.

Fuller registered two interceptions in a Week 6 game in Miami and later picked off passes in three consecutive contests against the Lions, Giants and Rams. His interception in Detroit late in the fourth quarter clinched a 23-16 Thanksgiving win.

"He is a true professional," said coach Matt Nagy. "He comes to practice every day and it transfers to the field."

Jackson recorded a career-high six interceptions and scored three touchdowns on two interception returns and a fumble return. His five defensive TDs since joining the Bears in 2017 are tied for the most by a player in his first two NFL seasons (with the Jets' Erik McMillan in 1988-89).

Jackson was named NFC defensive player of the month for November. He helped lead the Bears to a 4-0 record, scoring three touchdowns while recording 15 tackles, two interceptions, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and four pass breakups.

"He loves football," said new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. "He's a football junkie. The sky's the limit for a guy like that."

Nine-year veteran Prince Amukamara returns to start at cornerback opposite Fuller. Last season Amukamara compiled 66 tackles, three interceptions, 12 pass breakups, three tackles-for-loss and two forced fumbles.

Veteran newcomer Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will man the other safety spot. He replaces Adrian Amos, who left the Bears in free agency to sign with the Packers.

Clinton-Dix will begin training camp on the physically-unable-to-perform (PUP) list due to a sprained knee he sustained late in the offseason program. But general manager Ryan Pace said Sunday that it's expected to be a short-term issue.

Clinton-Dix joins the Bears having appeared in 80 games with 74 starts in five NFL seasons with the Packers (2014-18) and Redskins (2018). He has recorded 438 tackles, 28 pass breakups, 14 interceptions, 5.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, eight tackles-for-loss and eight quarterback hits. He has three additional interceptions in seven postseason contests.

Clinton-Dix was selected by the Packers with the 21st pick in the first round of the 2014 draft out of Alabama, seven slots after the Bears chose Fuller. The 6-1, 208-pounder remained with Green Bay until he was traded to the Redskins last Oct. 30 in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick.

Clinton-Dix has never missed a game during his five NFL seasons and has made 74 straight starts since joining the Packers' No. 1 defense in Week 7 of his rookie year. His best season came in 2016 when he was voted to the Pro Bowl after registering a career-high five interceptions.

"He was a Pro Bowler in 2016, so he's as good as he wants to be," Pagano said. "He's got length. He's got great instincts. He's got ball skills. So everything you're looking for in a safety because he can play down in the box and he can play in the deep parts of the zone. Then you can match him up and put him on backs and tight ends. So he's got all the skill set necessary to do all those things."

The Bears also will have a new nickel back in 2019. They signed veteran Buster Skrine in free agency and then selected Duke Shelley in the sixth round of the draft out of Kansas State.

Skrine has appeared in 123 NFL games with 85 starts over eight seasons with the Browns (2011-14) and Jets (2015-18). He has recorded 457 tackles, nine interceptions, 77 pass breakups, 3.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and 14 tackles-for-loss. 

Before the Bears hosted the Jets last season at Soldier Field, Nagy described Skrine as "one of the better nickels in this league, if not the best."

Shelley appeared in 38 games with 37 starts over four seasons at Kansas State, where he compiled 165 tackles, eight interceptions—returning two for touchdowns—one sack and seven tackles-for-loss.

Shelley started all 12 games he played as a junior in 2017, ranking fourth in the Big 12 with 13 pass breakups while earning honorable mention all-conference recognition. He opened the first seven games last year before sustaining a season-ending toe injury.

After the draft, Pace described the 5-9, 180-pounder as "a guy I feel like we've been talking about for a long time. [He's] a little bit undersized but extremely athletic. Really twitchy. Good ball skills."

Defensive back Sherrick McManis, the longest tenured player on the Bears roster, also returns in 2019. Last season he compiled 21 tackles, one interception, one sack, four pass breakups and two tackles-for-loss. McManis played as an extra defensive back most of the season before replacing the injured Bryce Callahan at nickel back in December.

Other defensive backs who will compete for playing time in training camp include cornerbacks Kevin Toliver II and rookie seventh-round pick Stephen Denmark and safeties Deon Bush and DeAndre Houston-Carson.

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