Until Sunday night, an undrafted free agent was the Bears rookie with the greatest impact.
Though first-rounder Gabe Carimi was effective until he was injured, it's Dane Sanzenbacher who has had the most playing time and effect on the Bears' season. Stephen Paea and Chris Conte changed that against the Vikings.
The Bears traded draft picks to get Paea, a highly-touted defensive lineman out of Oregon State. His strength was well-known because of the display he put on at the NFL combine, breaking the bench press record. But until Sunday, he was yet to dress for a game. Matt Toeina's injury allowed Paea to play, and he made an immediate impact. He sacked Vikings QB Donovan McNabb in the end zone, giving the Bears two points for a safety.
Chris Conte, the third-rounder out of California, played before Sunday, but the benching of Chris Harris and Brandon Merriweather gave Conte a chance to start. Conte wasn't dazzling, but his three tackles and three assists got the job done. He didn't allow any long-yardage to break out, which is what caused Merriweather and Harris to lose their jobs.
“We didn’t allow any big plays,” said Conte, who made his first NFL start. “We made some tackles and kept the ball in front of us. We made them beat us and they couldn’t.”
We've been critical of Jerry Angelo's drafting prowess in the past, and one game will not change that. However, Bears fans can have some hope for the future when two rookies play so well when called upon.