For most of the last decade the safety position has been one of upheaval for the Bears. Not since Mike Brown was in his pre-injury prime have the Bears had one safety spot settled. Since then it's been a long list of players plugged in and out of the defense: Todd Johnson, Mike Green, Bobby Gray, Chris Harris, Danieal Manning, Adam Archuleta, Brandon McGowan, Kevin Payne, Craig Steltz, Al Afalava, and finally Chris Conte and Major Wright.
The Bears have had a ridiculous string of consecutive years drafting a safety; eight straight years to be exact.
However, last year health and good play finally shown through and Conte and Wright established themselves as the starting duo at the back end of the defense. So much so that Phil Emery broke the safety-drafting trend this year.
So, how established are Conte and Wright and how is the depth at the position?
Starting free safety: Chris Conte (3rd NFL Season)
Job Responsibilities: Play deep coverage, helping with the pass coverage of the wide receiver, as well as assisting in the on any given play. In cover-2 coverage, he must keep the play in front of him and cover his side of the field. The free safety must be playing the QBs eyes as much as as any receiver. Must be the last line of defense and stop big plays.
Job so far: Conte had a solid season in 2012, his second in the league. He locked down the starting FS spot, starting 15 games, racking up 51 tackles, 2 interceptions, deflecting nine passes and recovering a fumble. While not a superb talent, he certainly deserves to be the starter this year and be allowed to grow into the position. He's got a lot of promise.
Confidence Level: High. He showed last year that he knew what he was doing out there and made a lot of solid plays. Some staffers had higher expectations for Conte than others, but he certainly has the promise of a Pro-Bowl player in my opinion. If he stays healthy he can be a force for the defense.
Starting strong safety: Major Wright (4th Season)
Job Responsibilities: Play closer to the line of scrimmage and be a force in the run game, while also being able to drop into coverage and stay with players out of the backfield and occasionally a TE.
Job so far: Good not great is how most would summarize it. He finally locked down a starting job last year, his third in the league, stayed healthy and started all 16 games on the strong side. He racked up 4 INTs, 52 tackles, eight pass deflections, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble.
Confidence Level: High. Believe it or not, the Bears are in good shape at the safety spots after so many years of revolving door, injuries and poor play. Not sure if either one of these guys will be perennial All-Pro caliber players but they are dependable, solid starters.
Back up Safeties: Strongs: Tom Zbikowski, Craig Steltz, Cyhl, Quarles. Frees: Brandon Hardin, Tom Nelson, Anthony Walters
Job Responsibilities: Fill in when called upon at either of the safety spots by fulfilling the duties laid out for the starters. When not filling in for injuries, the back ups at this position must be key players on special teams. Much like the depth at linebacker and wide receiver, the safety depth must have ST coverage ability to earn a spot on the roster.
Job so far: These guys have all done their part. Zbikowski has 25 career starts to his name with 64 appearances in games, which speaks to his ST ability. Steltz has appeared in 61 games with only seven starts, Walters has 20 games played and only 1 start and Nelson has appeared in 24 games with three starts. Quarles is the new guy on the block as a second-year player with no appearances. The guys are a treasure trove of special teams experience mixed with some starting capabilities.
Confidence Level: High. The depth is surprisingly good at this position. While the lack of starts may concern you (and rightfully so), the fact that the top of the depth, Zibikowski and Steltz, have been around the league long enough that you're comfortable with them if they need to step in for a period of time. Plus, what they bring on special teams makes them worth having around.
Overall confidence level: High. A good mix of youth an experience with career stats that make you feel comfortable with the group as a whole. Now that isn't saying that I believe the Bears have the best safety squad in the league or anything, but certainly Conte and Wright have established themselves in the top half of the league with the ability to move up. For the first time this decade safety isn't a spot of concern for Bears fans.
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