Ask David Haugh
Look at the new Bears depth chart and one thing jumps off the page.

Starting free safety Danieal Manning, the replacement for the injured Mike Brown, just became the defense's most irreplaceable player.

Now nobody is suggesting Manning suddenly means as much to the Bears defense as Brian Urlacher or Tommie Harris. But at least if either Harris or Urlacher went down, able, veteran options exist.

Behind Manning, the depth chart could read Hope and Prayer.

Manning brings the experience of starting 14 games as a rookie last year and better athleticism than perhaps any player in the Bears locker room. The defense will remain dominant with him.

Without him, no such guarantee could be made.

That is not necessarily a knock on Kevin Payne, the rookie elevated to No. 2 at the position. But the Bears drafted Payne as a strong safety to make plays close to the box instead of roam the secondary to clean up others' mistakes at free safety.

Cornerback Charles Tillman also pointed out that the Bears trust Brandon McGowan, who has three career starts, if injury forced him into the lineup. But has McGowan shown enough awareness in limited duty to have earned it?

Tillman also stressed that in the Cover 2 defense the safety positions are interchangeable because of the way each position has to cover half the field. Those are valid points but overlook the value of quickness, savvy and experience when it comes to a position that requires all three traits to provide caulk for the tiniest secondary leak.

"Either Payne or McGowan could do it,'' Tillman said.

In a pinch so could Tillman, who earned All-America honors at Louisiana-Lafayette after moving to free safety the second half of his senior year. At least sliding Tillman over to free safety alongside Adam Archuleta if something happens to Manning would bring Ricky Manning Jr. on the field to play Tillman's cornerback spot and keep the most proven players in the secondary.

Both Tillman and McGowan called such a move "not an option.''

"I'll do anything they asked me to do,'' Tillman said. "If they asked me to play free safety and it'd help out the team, I would. I'd play anywhere if they asked. But I don't think it'll come to that.''

If the Bears are lucky, they never will have to consider the scenario. But can a Super Bowl contender afford not to consider every possibility at such a key position?

Here are some other questions just as compelling.

Does anyone miss Chris Harris? Chris McGowan consistently blows coverage, and Mike Brown is out again. What are we doing here? What am I missing? --Drew, Loves Park, Ill.

Harris made seven tackles and forced a fumble in his debut as a starter for Carolina and broke into the lineup with the Bears in 2005 playing free safety – Brown's position. So given the Bears' lack of proven players behind new starter Danieal Manning, anybody saying Harris' experience isn't missed at Halas Hall is just trying to justify the trade. As sad as Brown's season-ending injury was, it wasn't surprising that he sustained a serious injury.

Why the Bears didn't anticipate that void instead of unloading a guy who started 20 of the past 25 games might be a question that nags the Bears all year.

I just saw that New England's Ellis Hobbs broke the longest kick return, which was 108 yards. Why does it matter how many steps back in the end zone the returner is? Everyone still has to go 100 yards to score. Isn't this kind of dumb to be factoring in the yardage in the end zone. If it is so significant, why not put yard marks down in the end zone? --Marc Cheiken, Las Vegas