If there's one recurring question mark about the 2009 Bears, it's the secondary. (We could also say the wide receivers, but that's less a question mark and more of an answer we'd rather not talk about right now.)
The secondary will determine whether the Bears have a good defense or a just-OK one; the linebackers and defensive line will be all right. The defensive holes, if there are any, will come most frequently in the backfield.
Cornerback Zack Bowman and free safety/nickel back Danieal Manning returned from hamstring injuries to get some work in and put them in a position to possibly get their first preseason action Sunday at Denver. ''You would like for that first game of action not to be against Green Bay,'' coach Lovie Smith said. ''But they'll tell us that. Ideally, I would have liked for them to have practiced the first day. We have a lot of work to do. They're making progress. It's good getting them back on the field taking the first step.''
Here's why this is good news, beyond the obvious general notion that having more healthy players is good for your football team: Bowman needs first-team cornerback reps. Throwing him in the fire in the first game of the season -- against Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings, and Green Bay's efficient offensive attack -- is not even remotely ideal. The more time Bowman gets up front, the better.
In Manning's case, it's a matter of consistent improvement. Manning has all the natural gifts to be a cornerback in the NFL, but he has yet to put it together. The Bears have been moving him around for what seems like his entire career -- he's played some corner, some nickel, and some safety, without ever really excelling at any of them. (In fact, Manning's biggest contributions last season came in the kicking game, where he very nearly approximated Devin Hester's productivity.) So Manning being able to play in stress-free games, rather than standing on the sideline, is big.
Would this be much better news if Charles Tillman was suddenly healthy? Sure. But it's good news for the Bears anyway. Now let's see if that secondary can hold its water.
Eamonn Brennan is a Chicago-based writer, editor and blogger. You can also read him at Yahoo! Sports, Mouthpiece Sports Blog, and Inside The Hall, or at his personal site, eamonnbrennan.com. Follow him on Twitter.