Brock Vereen, rookie safety for the Chicago Bears, will look to tackle older brother Shane Vereen, of the New England Patriots, Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
On Sunday, Shane Vereen and his younger brother Brock have an opportunity to do something they have never done before: play against each other in an actual football game. Growing up, the brothers restricted their adversarial gridiron competitions to Madden. But with injuries piling up in Chicago, particularly in the Bears’ secondary, Brock started his first NFL game last Sunday and could make his second start across the field from his older sibling this weekend. We reviewed Brock’s short NFL career – and tried to fill in some gaps by looking at college – to assess his abilities as a defensive back.
As a sophomore Vereen started at cornerback for the Minnesota Golden Gophers in all 11 of their games. This season provided a foundation for developing his man-to-man coverage skills, which he now utilizes in the NFL as a safety. He has demonstrated an ability to break quickly on routes and deliver punishing hits on receivers, as he did on this play against Michigan State. Minnesota has their base defense on the field to combat the Spartans’ 12 personnel. Vereen is to the top of the screen and the secondary shows Cover 4:
Vereen recognizes the three-step drop from the quarterback and explodes on the slant route. He arrives simultaneously with the football, jarring loose the pigskin from receiver.
Vereen was moved to safety for his junior year and saw action in each of Minnesota’s contests. As a senior he started every game for the Golden Gophers at safety, and his coaches deployed him in a variety of ways. On this first play, Vereen is lined up initially as a deep safety in a Cover 2 shell, but Minnesota rolls their coverage to Cover 1 and he comes down into the box to cover a tight-end:
The tight end runs an out-and-up route aimed for the front pylon of the end zone. Vereen attempts to disrupt him as he makes the break but misses, allowing the tight end to stay on his route and gain separation. However, Vereen’s speed closes the gap and his recovery positions him to make a play as the pass arrives, forcing an incompletion.
For this play Minnesota shows a Cover 6 look in the secondary, with Vereen lined up as a deep safety responsible for one-half of the field:
Iowa utilizes play-action on this occasion. Following a fake stretch run to the right, the quarterback peels back to his left and looks for his tight end on a short out route. Vereen diagnoses the play and breaks quickly on the tight end’s pattern. With the safety jumping the out route, the passer is left without any options. He tries to buy himself time but is dragged down after a gain of a yard, with Vereen assisting on the tackle:
Finally, the safety displayed his versatility and instincts on this play from the 2013 Texas Bowl. Syracuse lines up for a field goal and Vereen is aligned as an edge rusher on the kick blocking team:
The holder and kicker fake the field goal try and run the speed option to Vereen’s side of the field:
The safety is caught between the holder and the kicker on the edge, but, cognizant of the option, he is able to split the difference between the two players while shading himself towards the pitchman:
By taking away the pitch as an option for the holder, Vereen forces the ball carrier back to the inside where help is coming.
The holder fails to pick up the first down and the Gophers take over possession of the football.
The Chicago Bears selected Vereen in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL draft, and he nearly won the starting free safety position in training camp. As the season has progressed, mounting health issues with Chicago’s defensive backs have pressed the rookie into action. With starting safety Chris Conte out last week Vereen enjoyed his first career start against the Dolphins and showcased some of the techniques he learned in the Big Ten.
On this first play, Miami has a 1st and 10 in the red zone. Ryan Tannehill is under center and the Dolphins have 12 personnel on the field. The Bears respond with their base defense and show a press Cover 3 coverage in the secondary, with Vereen serving as the deep middle safety:
Hartline cuts off his route and looks to break to the inside. Mindful of Wallace on his left, Vereen cannot break too quickly on Hartline:
The safety waits until the quarterback commits to Hartline and then breaks quickly on the route:
Because the backside route has held him in the middle, Vereen cannot prevent the completion – but he is in perfect position to execute a strong, solid tackle on Hartline:
Perhaps due to his familiarity with playing near the line of scrimmage while at Minnesota, Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker dropped Vereen into the box on multiple snaps against Miami. From this alignment the safety provided a boost to the Chicago run defense, just as he does on this play. The Dolphins are again in the red zone, using 12 personnel. The Bears show the press Cover 3 again, but on this snap Vereen is aligned in the box:
And yet from behind this mass of humanity appears the rookie safety to adroitly serve as the force defender and close down on the ball carrier:
Vereen is able to complete the play and hold Miller to a two-yard gain:
After nearly winning the free safety job outright in training camp, Brock Vereen has shown great potential as an NFL safety when pressed into action due to injuries. His versatility and experience playing a number of roles in college has provided him with a diverse skill set to apply on Sundays. With the status of starting free safety Chris Conte still unclear, the rookie may make his second NFL start in Foxboro. Even if Vereen serves in a reserve role against the Patriots, he may finally get the chance to tackle his brother in live game action.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.