Could it be? Could Lovie Smith actually have a safety that he's comfortable enough with starting from one year to the next? Chris Conte did end the season on injured reserve, but he had nine consecutive starts from week 6 to week 15. He's the odds on favorite to open up as the starting free safety in 2012. Then again Lovie could always fall in love with some late round Afalava 2.0.
After the jump, we'll take a look at every safety on the current Bears roster, and speculate on how the '12 roster will shape up. And thanks to Pro Football Focus, we'll tap into their premium content for a different perspective.
Chris Conte - Signed through 2014 - It's safe to say that most Bears fans hated the Conte pick in the 3rd round of last years draft. It's also safe to say that most of those Bears fans were converted into fans of the Bird Man. While Conte made his share of rookie mistakes, he also showed a lot of promise as the Bears center-fielder. His injury was a foot sprain with some ligament damage, but no surgery was required. He's probably 100% right now.
Pro Football Focus had him as their 40th graded safety, right behind Detroit's Louis Delmas and in front of the Texans Danieal Manning. His -2.1 is respectable for a rookie playing in a system that needs him to cover a lot of ground and know the many disguises the Bears like to use.
Major Wright - Signed through 2013 - I still don't know what the Bears have in Wright. He had some more injury issues in 2011, but he had 3 interceptions. His play really hadn't stood out, and it was thought he had more a free safety feel to his game. If Conte is the free safety, can Wright play the strong? Is he durable enough to play the SS? PFF Had Wright with a -5.0 overall, but 2 of his 4 negatively graded games came in the first 3 games he played. Wright needs to take control of the SS position in camp.
Craig Steltz - Free Agent - All Steltz does when given an opportunity to get on the field is play solid fundamentally sound football. The knock on him is his speed, but he looks fast enough when he plays. PFF had him graded as the Bears best safety with a +4.8, good for 12th overall. I'm not sure how much of a market there'll be for Steltz, but if given a better opportunity to start elsewhere, I think he'll leave.
Brandon Meriweather - Free Agent - Meriweather was given every opportunity to keep the strong safety job, and he just couldn't get it done. PFF only had him with 2 negative games (-3.2 overall), in weeks 4 and 5, but he only saw limited duty after his benching during his final 6 games played. I don't see any scenario in which he returns in '12.
Anthony Walters -Terms undisclosed - Rookie Walters ended the year on IR, and he's a candidate for some safety depth in 2012.
Winston Venable - Terms undisclosed - Venable was resigned after the Bears lost Walters to a hamstring injury. He'll at least be in camp.
Donovan Warren - Signed a reserve/future contract - Warren, a college corner, played safety with the Jets before they cut him. He'll most likely get a look at safety for the Bears, but he's nothing more than a camp body at this point.
2012 OUTLOOK - It would not surprise me to see the Bears draft a safety at some point. They need depth and competition at the position. I'd like to see Steltz return, but that's up to the market. I wouldn't expect any flashy free agent acquisitions at this position. They'll add a draftee and an undrafted guy or two.