Pre-camp check: Safety

July, 5, 2014
Jul 5
9:00
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With veteran minicamp coming to a close on June 19, the Chicago Bears receive a much-needed break to recharge before the start of training camp in July at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Illinois.

During the team’s time of inactivity, we’ll take a position-by-position look at some of the expected training camp battles and dark horses to make the team:

[+] EnlargeChris Conte
AP Photo/Scott BoehmSafety Chris Conte, who has missed all of the Bears' 2014 offseason work so far, hopes to return healthy and in time for training camp in late July.
Overview: Inconsistency brought on by injuries along the front seven played a role in shoddy play in 2013 by safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte.

Wright bolted for Tampa Bay in free agency, but Conte remains on the roster; sidelined by an offseason shoulder surgery that could land him on the physically unable to perform list for the start of training camp. Either way, the brass deemed it necessary to upgrade the talent at the position.

Did they do it? That’s unclear right now because offseason workouts don’t provide enough evidence about how the new additions might perform in game situations.

In addition to drafting Brock Vereen, the Bears signed M.D. Jennings, Danny McCray, Ryan Mundy and 14-year veteran Adrian Wilson. So between all the new faces combined with players such as Conte and Craig Steltz, the Bears should be able to find a couple of safeties in 2014 capable of getting the job done.

Battle to watch: Every spot on the safety depth chart registers as a battle to watch because right now every position -- including the starting jobs -- is up for grabs. Provided Conte regains his confidence in 2014, he certainly possesses the skill set to finish training camp as one of the starters. But how long will he be on the shelf? Conte was unable to practice throughout organized team activities and minicamps, which puts him somewhat behind in the competition for one of the starting spots.

“We’ll see,” Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. “I’ll wait until camp rolls around and I’ll get a report, and they’ll let us know who’s available and how much they can do. Whenever he’s available, we’ll start working him in and get him up to speed, get him the reps. He’s been in the meetings. So he knows what we’re doing. We’re going to start over pretty much in training camp with our installation. So a lot of it will be review, and then we’ll add some things as we go that we didn’t cover in OTAs and the coaches’ sessions. He’s gotten the mental work in, in the class room. So it’ll just be getting the physical reps. When he’s ready, he’s ready. We’ll work him in.”

Mundy has taken reps with the starters, as have Vereen and Jennings. The Bears added a wrinkle to the competition at safety in late June with the signing of Wilson, a five-time Pro Bowler, who missed all of 2013 due to a torn Achilles.

Dark horse: Despite his decorated past and Pro Bowl pedigree, Wilson comes into the derby for one of the safety spots without the benefit of learning the system by participating in the team’s offseason program. Wilson is one of 13 players in NFL history to pick off at least 20 passes in addition to posting 20 sacks. But the truth is the coaching staff really doesn’t know what Wilson, who will be 35 this season, has left in the tank. Wilson is also still trying to work back from undergoing surgery last fall on his Achilles.

If Wilson manages to stick, he could be a valuable asset for the team’s young safeties in teaching them the intricacies of the game.

Who makes the cut: The Bears will have some tough decisions to make here because it appears the current group is talented, but the roster spots are limited. Conte (if he regains health), Mundy, Vereen and Steltz will likely make the roster, and if the Bears decide to go with five safeties, Jennings would likely make the cut over McCray. If Wilson shows he’s back to form during camp, Steltz could become a victim of the numbers game at the position.

Michael C. Wright

ESPN Chicago Bears reporter

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