It’s been a difficult year for Chicago Bears safety Chris Conte, who has dealt with a concussion, plus injuries to both shoulders in the first seven weeks of the regular season. The second shoulder injury forced Conte out of last week’s contest, yet he practiced in full today and is slated to return on Sunday against the New England Patriots.
“I got a week without having to put stress on my body, so I definitely feel fresher,” Conte said after practice. “It helped me a lot, a chance to rest my body and let a few injuries heal.”
The Bears will benefit from the return of Conte, who has played very well when on the field.
Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker used a five-man rotation at linebacker in last week’s contest. Shea McClellin, D.J. Williams and Khaseem Greene all worked in base sets, while Greene and Darryl Sharpton lined up in nickel packages.
This created an interesting scenario in which Sharpton wore the green dot on his helmet, signaling a headset inside the helmet. On passing downs, Tucker was able to use the headset to call in plays to Sharpton, yet in base formations, he had to signal in the play call.
“There’s several reasons for that,” Tucker said today. “It’s not that big of a challenge. We’ve been in those situations before. I know I have as a coordinator where you signal a little bit or you just give it to them on the headset. It’s not an issue. We practice it and we’re fine.”
MORE PT FOR JONES?
In the fourth quarter of the loss to Miami, Christian Jones replaced Khaseem Greene at the weak-side linebacker position, yet Tucker said it wasn’t an indication of Greene’s performance as a starter.
“We play a lot of guys. Christian, obviously, we like when he's on the field. Khaseem didn't play a perfect game but I don't think any of us did,” Tucker said. “We just wanted to get [Jones] some work. He played well when we played against Atlanta, did some good things. We felt like we wanted to get him in there and he did a good job when he was in there.”
Tucker did say there is an opportunity for Jones to earn more playing time going forward.
“We'll see how it turns out. We'll see how this week goes in practice. He's done a good job so far, he's physical, he plays fast, that's what we like. He'll get what he earns.”
THIRD PHASE SHOWING SIGNS OF LIFE
Chicago’s special teams have played relatively well of late. The coverage units have been strong the past two weeks, while the team blocked a kick and had a 50-yard return last week against the Dolphins.
Lamarr Houston’s blocked field-goal was the team’s second this year.
“We’ve already blocked one against Green Bay. So I mean our guys have been giving great effort all year. Lamarr got the block and we had pressure other places,” special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said today.
Williams’ 50-yard return was the team’s longest kickoff return of the season.
“I thought our guys did a nice job of executing the blocking scheme, which was good to see. And then Chris hit it really well. Hopefully it’s a start.”
The improvement in special teams is dramatic in comparison to just a few weeks ago, when the club’s third phase appeared in dire straits.
“I don’t want to use the word bottomed out,” DeCamillis said. “I think that it was definitely an organizational decision where we tried to go young at the start of the year and we knew that there were going to be some rough spots. But we also knew that with young players that are talented that they should improve. And I think that’s what you’re seeing right now. They’re starting to get things and they’re starting to understand this a little bit. But it’s a constant struggle. We’ve got to make sure they stay on the right path the whole time.”
VEREEN vs. VEREEN
“Not with pads on,” Vereen said today. “But we're definitely looking forward to the possibility.”
That first hit will likely comes this week. Shane has become the workhorse back for New England, while Brock is firmly entrenched in Chicago’s safety rotation.
“I've got plenty of love for him,” said Brock. “But on Saturday we both know we have jobs to do.”
And if Shane comes across the middle with the football, is Brock going to hesitate to lay the lumber on his brother?
“That's my job,” Brock said. “Just like he would be looking to run me over or break my tackle. So we're very excited.”
THE MARTZ APPROACH
Chicago’s offense ran just two running plays in the first half Sunday. Trestman said on Monday that quarterback Jay Cutler optioned out of four run plays, which resulted in the lopsided run/pass ratio.
Matt Forte had 10 carries in the second half but only after Trestman took the audible option off Cutler’s plate.
“That’s no different than making a halftime adjustment,” said Trestman. “We have some runs that are attached to throws and others that are just called runs so at halftime we said regardless of the front we’re getting, we think we can run the ball this half so that’s what we decided to do.
“It wasn’t as if we were handcuffing anybody or taking things out of the quarterback hands - that wasn’t the intent at all. To be very specific, the intent was we wanted to make sure when we called a run, we felt that we had the advantage and the advantage was to run it. And the play designs were set up that we could handle any fronts on those particular calls.
“Jay didn’t make any wrong decisions. They did a good job of defending those decisions and so we made an adjustment to attack them a different way in the second half.”
ALLEN HASN’T BEEN DEMOTED
Jared Allen didn’t play the entire third quarter in Week 7, and was used sparingly in the fourth.
“Going forward, obviously we want him in the game,” said Tucker. “He’s been a highly productive player for us. It was an unusual series, we had a lot of short-yardage situations. We didn’t really get into 3rd and long. We visited with him about it and we’re ready to move on. We’ll be fine.”
Allen, who has just 1.5 sacks this year, has been out-played considerably by “backup” Willie Young, who is second in the league with 7.0 sacks. Still, Allen said he doesn’t believe Sunday’s reduction in playing time will be a permanent thing.
“It’s probably an aberration,” he said. “They haven’t told me I am on reduced playing time. We’ll take it for that.”
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.