The Chicago Bears released their first unofficial depth chart of the regular season on Tuesday morning as the team prepares to face the Buffalo Bills, and while most of the selections weren’t surprises, there was one position that jumped off the page.
Monday night, ESPN Chicago’s Michael C. Wright reported that the Bears had decided to start Chris Conte at the free safety position for Sunday’s game, presuming that he would be healthy enough to do so. Conte suffered a concussion in his first preseason action against the Seattle Seahawks in August, and although he hasn’t officially been cleared to play yet, he is making progress in his recovery.
On the Bears’ depth chart however, the starters are still listed as Ryan Mundy at the strong side safety spot and Danny McCray at free safety. That duo started together in the Bears’ first three preseason games, and while McCray hasn’t played stellar football, he has been solid enough that putting him in the lineup for Week 1 doesn’t seem to be that big of a gamble.
The real question of course is whether or not he’s better suited to start than Conte is. Conte played all 16 games for the Bears at the free safety spot last year, and while he did struggle (including his notable coverage lapse that allowed Green Bay Packers WR Randall Cobb to score the division-clinching touchdown in Week 17), it was largely because of the Bears’ lackluster front seven attack.
With no pressure being generated on the quarterback and with no run defense to speak of, Conte and Major Wright were forced to handle just about everything, and that’s never a good position for a safety to be put in.
Conte has more experience in the Bears’ defense than just about any player not named Lance Briggs or Charles Tillman, but should he start if he’s healthy? The answer, simply put, is no. That isn’t meant to be a knock on Conte, who is hellbent on proving that last year is a thing of the past rather than a sign of things to come, but rather it’s a recognition that Mundy and McCray have put in a lot of work together during the preseason, and the duo should rightfully get the first crack at starting for the Bears.
If McCray doesn’t work out, Conte or Brock Vereen would always be an option to come in and replace him, but until he proves that he shouldn’t be out on the field, McCray should be allowed to show the Bears what he can do. Starting him over Conte would be the right move this week, and Mel Tucker can continue to evaluate his players on a weekly basis. It’s the fair way to do it, and the one that’s best for the Bears.