There's one undeniable fact about Chicago Bears GM Phil Emery: he never stops working. When Emery sees a weakness on his roster, he attacks it from multiple angles and is never afraid to alter his personnel at any point in the season.
The Bears last week finished up veteran minicamp, which put a wrap on the team's offseason activities. Shortly thereafter, Emery slashed a handful of players, including third-year safety Sean Cattouse, who was replaced by Adrian Wilson, a five-time Pro Bowler.
Wilson, 34 years old, has 12 years experience in the NFL, all with the Arizona Cardinals. He signed a one-year deal with the New England Patriots last year but tore his Achilles in the preseason and missed the entire campaign.
This move, at surface level, provides training camp competition at arguably the weakest position on the team. The Bears worked fourth-round rookie Brock Vereen and free-agent acquisition Ryan Mundy with the first team during offseason activities, with M.D. Jennings and Danny McCray the primary backups. Craig Steltz and Chris Conte were on the shelf due to injury.
Considering that less-than-stellar lineup of safeties, Wilson has a very good shot of quickly working his way up the depth chart, assuming he's healthy. At the very least, his vast experience as an NFL safety will be invaluable to the team's younger players, particularly Vereen. Having Wilson around, even if it's just during training camp, will have a lasting effect on the position.
Wilson is big (6-3, 230) and has always been one of the toughest safeties in the league. If he can somehow pump out one more good season, this will be a great move for the Bears. Don't hold your breath that a mid-30s safety coming off a major leg injury can be a savior for Chicago's secondary but he's worth a run in Bourbonnais.
This move may also signal a few concerns for Bears brass, both in depth and the health of the position. Conte is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. The team believes he'll be ready for training camp but Wilson appears to be a backup plan in case setbacks in the shoulder occur.
The Wilson acquisition also signals a possible lack of confidence in the players currently manning the position, particularly the backups. Jennings hasn't been productive during his career and McCray is a special teams player. If Conte can't mend quickly, the Bears will be forced to start a mid-round rookie and it's anyone's guess how that might turn out. The club obviously feels better inserting a 12-year NFL safety than any of the other current backup options.
No matter how you slice it, the competition for the starting safeties positions during training camp is going to be intense and will include a number of different options. When the smoke clears, it's likely Conte, assuming he's healthy, and Mundy will emerge as the starters. But that could quickly change if any of other players, including Wilson, can stand out in Bourbonnais.
Make no mistake though, this competition won't be decided at any point early in the process. The biggest issue with Chicago's safeties last year was their inability to consistently bring down ball carriers. Under Marc Trestman, the Bears don't tackle in practice, so the preseason will be the best platform to truly decide the winner of this multi-player battle.
Conte and Major Wright were arguably the worst safety duo in the league last season, so the bar is set very low. Whatever starting duo emerges, they'll just need to be serviceable, which should be aided by a beefed up front seven. If all goes right, a solid pairing will emerge during the hot summer months in central Illinois, and the concerns over the Bears' safeties will become a thing of the past.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.