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Bears GM explains pitfalls of drafting safeties

INDIANAPOLIS – New Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace faces a multitude of hurdles to rebuild a defense that ranked near the bottom of the league the past two seasons, but a familiar problem refuses to go away.

Safety.

In terms of pure offseason needs, the Bears must prioritize finding quality defensive linemen and inside and outside linebackers to fit coordinator Vic Fangio’s hybrid 3-4 scheme.

But safety remains an area where the Bears need to improve.

The Bears have selected a safety in 11 of the last 13 years, failing to ever fix the position long-term.

Pace tried to explain why talent-evaluators struggle to identify talent at safety.

“I think the reason why that position is difficult is because it’s such an instinctive position," Pace said Wednesday at the NFL combine. “I think if there’s an area where scouts, we make mistakes, is judging instincts.

When I think of a safety; No. 1 is instincts, ball skills and open-field tackling. Those are things that come to mind. You know, sometimes the ball is coming out quick in the college game now with the spread offense. But the No. 1 reason why that position gets misevaluated sometimes is because of the instincts.”

Veteran Ryan Mundy turned out to be a bargain free-agent acquisition for the Bears last season, finishing second on the team with 108 tackles and tied for first on the defense with four interceptions.

After Mundy, the depth chart at safety is fuzzy.

One of last year’s fourth-round picks, Brock Vereen, showed some promise (38 tackles, one interception) as a rookie, and definitely projects to be a solid NFL special-teams player. However, the jury is still out whether Vereen can hold up as a full-time safety. Meantime, much-maligned Chris Conte is an unrestricted free agent and is highly unlikely to return to Chicago after a variety of injuries. He sat out the final three games of the regular season. Conte finished second on the team with three interceptions.

ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. had the Bears selecting Alabama safety Landon Collins at No. 7 overall in his first mock draft, but moved Collins all the way down to Pittsburgh at No. 22 in his latest projections.