Down to the Wire

There are several spots still up for grabs, but one of the most wide-open competitions is between Mike Green and Bobby Gray at strong safety. Who will join Mike Brown as the Bears last line of defense?

After the completion of the team's three mini-camps Green has the inside track over Gray.

"I think it's still a race, but yes, you would have to say [Mike Green] is still ahead. I can't say that Bobby has taken the job from him right now," Lovie Smith said. "This is just the first phase really of it. It will go all the way down to training camp."

Green missed the first mini-camp because of a groin problem that dates back to last season. He missed six games with the injury, which gave Gray a chance to break into the starting lineup including the last five games of the season.

Both Green and Gray have their strengths and weaknesses.

Green split time at nickel back with Jerry Azumah in 2001 before moving to strong safety when Tony Parrish left via free agency. At 6-foot, 195 pounds Green lacks the bulk to distribute big hits for receivers going over the middle or in the run game. Although his athleticism allows him to play any position in the secondary, he might be better suited to roam but with Mike Brown at free safety that isn't going to happen.

In 49 career games Green has just one interception, which is one more than Gray has in 19 games. That will have to improve to stay in Smith's good graces.

At 6-foot, 212 pounds, Gray has the size to be a prototypical strong safety for a "Cover 2" scheme.

"He needs to be able to drop down in the box; he needs to be a fourth linebacker a lot of times, have that mentality," Smith said of the position. "We're looking more at what he can do in underneath coverage and supporting the run, playing the run."

Gray's frame is similar to that of physical safeties Smith has worked with in the past. "John Lynch was a 215-pound guy, (Adam) Archuleta was a 215-pound guy," Smith said. "Both of them had a linebacker mentality, had that background in their career."

However the 2001 fifth-round pick doesn't have the hands to come up with the ball on a consistent basis. Gray has dropped more than one sure interception during the team's mini-camps, which has been a knock on him going back to the days of Greg Blache.

Gray earned a reputation for being a player more interested in laying out an opponent then picking off the ball.

Even with Green signing a five-year extension last year worth $10 million there is little chance that Smith will play favorites. The best player will play, which was not always the case under the previous regime. Smith knows no matter which player starts both Green and Gray will have to contribute in the pass-happy state of the league.

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