Safety Battle Ongoing
From the very first practice of OTAs this year, the Chicago Bears coaching staff initiated a positional competition at safety. From that battle, Danny McCray, Ryan Mundy, Brock Vereen and Chris Conte were the four safeties that emerged on the final 53-man roster.
When asked today who will start on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, coordinator Mel Tucker was noncommittal.
“We've got a pretty good idea of what direction we're going to go,” Tucker said, “but we're going to let the week play out and see how it unfolds, but we have a pretty good idea of what we want to do there.”
Apparently, that plan is to rotate all four safeties in the game.
“We’re going to roll them in,” coach Marc Trestman said. “If Chris is up, we’re going to rotate the safeties. We’ll rotate them between Ryan and Danny and Chris. We’ll rotate them around. Are we set on who we’re going to start? No, but I expect all three of them will play, and Brock will get some work as well.”
Trestman cited the value of Mundy and McCray on special teams as the reason the club will shuffle safeties in and out of the game.
“I think that one of the key advantages is we’ve got special teams duties for Mundy and McCray. They are a big part of what we are special teams-wise,” said Trestman. “A big part of why they were brought in here was to not only have the opportunity to start but have the opportunity to play special teams. So by rotating guys in we think we can keep them fresh and create an advantage special teams-wise as well.”
Chris Conte (concussion) practiced today but has not been officially cleared to play. It appears the uncertainty regarding his health is the reason the coaching staff won’t commit to a starting duo. They don’t want to anoint Conte the starter unless they are sure he’s ready to go or they may compromise McCray’s confidence. Remember, McCray has been a pure special-teams player in all but one of his four NFL seasons, so if he’s going to line up with the starters, the coaching staff wants him mentally prepared.
Lance Briggs missed Monday’s practice to attend the grand opening of his BBQ restaurant, Double Nickel Smokehouse, in Elk Grove, California.
That didn’t sit well with some fans and media. In both of Chicago’s major newspapers, Briggs and Trestman – who gave his seven-time Pro-Bowl linebacker permission to skip Monday’s one-hour practice – were taken to task.
“Back when I approached Trestman about it, I asked if I could have a personal day. He said ‘OK,’” Briggs said. “Monday was an hour-long practice. Typically, in the NFL, you install your game plan starting on Wednesday. You put in your first and second down. This is typical throughout the league. Your third-down and blitz package on Thursday and your short-yardage and goal-line stuff on Friday, and your review on Friday. Then you have a walk through and review on Saturday before you play the game.
“For me, the grand opening on Monday was an opportunity and I asked him [for permission]. I didn’t make the decision [to have the grand opening Monday]. My partner made the decision. It was Labor Day and on Labor Day, as you do know, most people do not work.”
Briggs believes there’s a more-relevant question that need be asked regarding one missed practice for an 11-year NFL veteran.
“I think the question that’s more important than that is as a guy that’s over 12 years [in the NFL] that I poured my heart out on the field every game and every play. I think if you’re questioning whether I care more to be there than to be here, my history has always spoken for me.”
Tucker, when asked about Briggs’ absence, summed it up best: “Lance is going to be ready to play on Sunday and that is really the bottom line.”
Good but not Great
Last season, Trestman’s first at the helm, the Bears transformed from one of the worst offenses in the league to the second-highest-scoring club in the NFL, with, the eighth-best offense and fifth-best passing attack. For Trestman though, that’s not good enough.
“We should have high expectations because we showed we can perform at a high level. We didn’t do it well enough or consistently enough in my opinion; I said that in the offseason,” Trestman said. “The ruling was that we did pretty good. In our collective opinion, coaches and players, we did a lot of good things but we’ve got to do them better. There’s things we can do better individually, conceptually, we’ve got to take care of the football. We had opportunities to win games offensively and we didn’t do it.
“That was last year. Hopefully we learned from it and it thickened our skin. It made us aware that we’ve got a long way to go. We’re starting over. That’s what you do every season. That’s why it’s exciting, because we can’t base what we’re going to do on the past. We can just use that as a baseline of how good we can be. When we look back, we can be better.”
The current NFL CBA limits the amount of contact in practice. If you hit too much during practice, you’ll be fined, just ask the Seattle Seahawks. It’s the main reason tackling has been so inconsistent league-wide the past three years.
When the lights go on, the lack of contact in practice might negatively affect some of the team’s younger players but for Lance Briggs, who is entering his 12th season, tackling is second nature.
“Shoot, a lot of us have been tackling most of our lives. You have a little bit of that to rest on,” Briggs said. “To me, it’s kind of like riding a bike. You don’t necessarily forget how to do it. You’ve just got to know that you’re not going to get as much practice at it as before.”
Trestman, who emphasizes player safety during practice, is notorious for his powder-puff sessions. The biggest hit during training camp this year came when Martellus Bennett body slammed Kyle Fuller to the ground. Yet between the whistles, it’s flag football.
Yet Briggs said the team has recently amped up the contact level in practice.
“We’re getting plenty of thud now in practice. We’re getting a lot more thud now than we did last year and that’s going to show up,” said Briggs. “There’s actually an emphasis on it each play because the Buffalo [Bills] offensive looks we’re getting, we’re going to be able to put our hats on the running backs.”
The Bears were historically bad on defense last year, which prompted GM Phil Emery to make near-wholesale changes along the defensive line. That includes Jared Allen, the league’s active leader in career sacks.
For Allen, the struggles of last year’s Monsters of the Midway are a thing of the past. He’s looking toward the future.
“No, I don’t care what they did last year. It’s a totally different team,” Allen said. “The NFL, it’s really a year-to-year basis. What have you done for me lately? If we sit back and harp on what happened last year and go back and judge players that aren’t even here. You look at the injuries alone, there is a major excuse for it. You’ve got to push forward, look at what we’ve done in the preseason and where we can get better and really hone in on what our objectives are week by week.”
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.