Several factors figured into free safety Chris Conte getting his first NFL start last Sunday night, and his performance in practice and on special teams were two keys.
"A lot of athletic ability," coach Lovie Smith said of the third-round pick from Cal. "He's green; hasn't played a lot. But all the things you need before you get a chance to get on the field and prove whether you can really play, he has."
Conte played more cornerback than safety in college, but at 6-foot-2 and 203 pounds he has good size for a safety.
Conte had a huge play in the second quarter when he brought down Vikings wildcat quarterback Joe Webb for a 1-yard gain on a third-and-4 at the Bears' 15-yard line, forcing a FG attempt that was wide left.
Major Wright was reinserted as the strong safety. The Conte-Major Wright pairing was the fifth different safety tandem the Bears have used in six weeks.
--DE Julius Peppers, who was not listed on the injury report after being "doubtful" but starting and getting two sacks last week, has 15 1/2 sacks in 15 games against the Bucs.
--WR Devin Hester was the NFC special teams player of the week for the 11th time on the basis of his 98-yard kickoff-return touchdown that extended his NFL record for kick-return touchdowns to 16 (11 punts, 5 kickoffs).
--RB Matt Forte leads the NFL with 908 yards from scrimmage but in his only game vs. the Bucs he was limited to 89 yards on 27 carries for a 3.3-yard average.
--CB D.J. Moore, the nickel back, has the only two interceptions by the Bears' secondary this season.
--DT Henry Melton has just six tackles in six starts this season, but he has three sacks and has been credited by the Bears with 15 QB pressures.
--DT Matt Toeaina (sprained PCL), did not practice Wednesday and is not expected to play Sunday.
--OT Gabe Carimi (partially dislocated knee cap) is unlikely to return until Week 9, following the Bears' off week.
--WR Earl Bennett (bruised chest) was a full participant at practice Wednesday and could play Sunday for the first time since Week two.
With or without injured RB LeGarrette Blount, the Bears believe the Bucs will make it a point to establish the run, which they were able to do last week with backup Earnest Graham. The Bears held the Vikings and Adrian Peterson to 53 yards on 17 carries last week, but they were gashed for a total of 350 yards in the two previous games against the Lions and Panthers.
Offensively, coordinator Mike Martz had success last week with shorter drops, quicker passes and maximum protection on the occasional seven-step drops. Expect more of the same as Martz does what he can to preserve the health of QB Jay Cutler, who was sacked 18 times in the first five games but just once last week. With Marion Barber healthy and able to complement Matt Forte, the Bears are more run-oriented than they were in the first five weeks.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Bears new S tandem of Major Wright and Chris Conte vs. Bucs TE Kellen Winslow.
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