In this ongoing series, we'll take a position by position look at the Chicago Bears roster with an eye towards 2013. We'll speculate on who stays, who goes, and some potential additions we'd like to see. Also thanks to our friends at Pro Football Focus, we'll bring you their unique insight on the Chicago Bears.
I wonder if the almost comical revolving door of safeties will subside, now that Lovie Smith is no longer coaching the Chicago Bears...
Chris Conte - Signed through 2014 - As a rookie Chris Conte played like he was trying not to get beat deep, but in 2012 he seemed more comfortable in the defense. He was much more active in run support his second year, and he appeared to take better angles at times. There were still some youthful mistakes, but overall I think Conte has the promise to stick as the starting free safety for the Bears.
Pro Football Focus had his grade about where you'd expect for a young player still finding his way, a -2.0, tied for 56th. His pass coverage grade was solid at +4.5, tied for 17th, but he was hurt by a few flags that garnered him a -2.0 grade in penalties. Even though he was more aggressive against the run, PFF did have him with a -3.6 in that category. To take the grades even deeper, in 15 games he had three positively graded performances, three negative ones, and the rest were neutral.
Major Wright - Signed through 2013 - I think Conte and Wright can form a very good tandem if allowed to grow as players together. Wright had his best season yet, and he was used in a variety of ways. He had four interceptions on the season, he played in all 16 games, and as a bonus he didn't injury any of his teammates.
PFF had Wright at #23 with a +5.1. He was the only Bears safety to grade in the positive. For the most part, he had an overall good year, but PFF really had him playing a stinker of a game in San Francisco with a -5.2, so that definitely hurt his season total.
Brandon Hardin - Signed through 2015 - I was excited to see if Hardin's athleticism translated well to the NFL level. Hopefully he's learned a little something about keeping his head up while tackling. I'm not sure how severe his injury was last season, and there's a good chance it was just fortunate timing that allowed him to enter the Lovie Smith redshirt program. His speed/size combo could make him an ideal candidate to play some nickle against teams with athletic tight ends.
Anthony Walters -Signed through 2013 - Walters stepped up when called upon, but I don't think he's a roster lock by any means. He'll be fighting it out in training camp this summer. Pro Football Focus had him playing 112 defensive snaps, and his season grade was a -2.4. He played in four games, with the majority of his playing time coming in his week 17 start against the Lions, and he graded out with a -2.0 in that game.
Troy Nolan - Free Agent - Nolan was signed the day after Christmas because of some injury issues the Bears had at the safety position, but he didn't log any reps on defense. I don't believe he'll be back.
Craig Steltz - Signed through 2013 - All the former LSU Tiger does is preform when called on. He's not flashy, he's just a solid back up safety. He's a good special teamer, so I expect he's back in the mix for a roster spot in 2013. Steltz played one more snap than Walters did, and his grade was a "neutral" -0.9.
Tom Nelson - Signed Through 2013 - Local product Tom Nelson (Illinois State and Hersey H.S) does have three starts under his belt in the NFL. The Bears are his 3rd team, and he's appeared in 24 total games since 2009. He'll fight for a roster spot once camps open up.
Cyhl Quarles - Signed through 2014 - I'll admit, seeing this guy on the Bears roster caught me by surprise. I'm not sure how such an unusual name slipped passed me, but I'll try and have my Bears radar working better from here on out. Quarles was originally signed by the Ravens, was cut, then added by the Patriots, then cut, and finally landed on the Bears via a reserve/future contract. He's a strong safety type (6'1" 223), that ran a 4.53 40, and did 19 reps on the bench at the 2012 NFL combine.
2013 OUTLOOK - I think once Mel Tucker and the defensive staff go over all the tape from 2012, that they'll be content with the returning starting safeties. With five additional safeties under contract, I highly doubt they bring in much more than a handful of young hopefuls to fill up the camp roster and push the vets.
I suppose if a guy high on Phil Emery's draft board is sitting there, he could go the best player available route and pluck another prospect, but a returning Hardin may already fit that bill. I'd rather they pass on safety altogether in the draft.