While the Chicago Bears’ offense is pretty much set to go, their defense is far less set in stone, and that was arguably the biggest focus when GM Phil Emery and head coach Marc Trestman addressed the media on Wednesday afternoon.
The safety position is one of the most hotly contested spots, with the free and strong side positions up for grabs. One player has already hit a roadblock in his quest to win one of the jobs, with Chris Conte ruled out of practice through at least the first preseason game in two weeks against the Philadelphia Eagles. He will be placed on the active physically unable to perform list by the team, and he will be re-evaluated after that game takes place on August 8.
When addressing the situation at safety, Trestman said that he sees the free and strong safety positions as “interchangeable,” and added that the two “best guys” will be the ones to win jobs, regardless of which spot they normally play. That means that Conte, who is one of only two free safeties in the running for a roster spot (free agent acquisition M.D. Jennings is the other) isn’t necessarily in the driver’s seat for the starting role when he returns from injury.
That statement also means that the myriad of strong safeties that the Bears have in camp could have a chance to grab the reins as a starter on the other side of the formation. Ryan Mundy, signed over the offseason, will surely be the main candidate for a starting job, with rookie Brock Vereen likely joining him in that category. Veteran safety Adrian Wilson could also take down a job with a good enough training camp and preseason.
In addition to the safety spots being completely up for grabs, Trestman also said that two of the three linebacker positions are currently open. Lance Briggs has a handle on the weak side linebacker position, but the middle and strong side linebacking jobs are up for grabs. DJ Williams, brought back on a one-year contract by the Bears over the offseason, will likely have the advantage in battling for the middle spot, but Jon Bostic played some snaps last season and could use his athleticism and youth to his advantage.
Meanwhile, the strong side spot is a bit more muddled. Khaseem Greene could well find himself in that competition with Shea McClellin, who is moving back in the formation after a failed run at defensive end. Bostic could also jump into that competition as well if Trestman and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker opt for Williams in the middle.
The Bears’ first practice will take place on Friday morning at 9am, with their first preseason game taking place on August 8 against the Philadelphia Eagles at Soldier Field.