Thursday, October 13, 2011
Safety carousel continues for Bears
By Kevin Seifert
Normally, it's a big deal when an NFL team promotes two players into starting roles in the same week.
It's especially notable when you're talking about 50 percent of your defensive backfield.
But when the Chicago Bears name two new starting safeties, it's called "Thursday."
Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune first reported that the Bears are planning to use rookie Chris Conte and second-year player Major Wright as their starting safeties in Sunday night's game against the Minnesota Vikings. Conte and Wright will replace Chris Harris and Brandon Meriweather, who started Monday night's disastrous 24-13 loss to the Detroit Lions. (ESPNChicago.com Michael C. Wright has confirmed the news.)
If all goes as expected, it will be the Bears' fifth different combination of starting safeties in six games. And if history is our guide, it won't be the final arrangement for the 2011 season. According to the Tribune's Brad Biggs, the Bears have made 28 changes to their lineup at safety since coach Lovie Smith arrived in 2004.
I can't say I disagree with the decision in this case. Harris has struggled with a hamstring injury this season and looked neither healthy nor effective Monday night. You can't really blame a safety for getting beat deep by Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, as Harris was on Johnson's 73-yard touchdown pass, but he also appeared out of position on Jahvid Best's 88-yard scoring run.
Meriweather, meanwhile, has demonstrated why the New England Patriots gave up on him at the end of the preseason. He doesn't have an interception in four starts this season, failing to counter his otherwise undisciplined play, and ESPN 1000 broadcaster Tom Waddle has already called him out for what Waddle called an intent to injure opponents.
So it makes sense to give two different players a chance. But will Conte and Wright prove any more competent? That's debatable at best. Wright will be on his third go-around as a starter since the Bears drafted him last season, while Conte has seen only small glimpses of defensive action. At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, perhaps Conte will be better suited to take on the Vikings' running game Sunday night.
Obviously, injuries have played a role here. But when you see this many changes in such a short period, it's fair to question whether the Bears' original plan for the position -- Harris and Wright -- was sound. The first clue of concern was the arrival of Meriweather, who received $3.25 million to sign, and continued when Wright lost his job after Week 2.
Too often, the Bears' plan at safety has been to throw possibilities against the wall and wait for them to stick. In 2011, they're still waiting.
Related: Wright reports that Frank Omiyale won't get his third consecutive start (and benching) at right tackle. The Bears are considering several options to replace him, including right guard Lance Louis.