Before Major Wright and Chris Conte held down the safety spots the past two seasons, those two starting positions had been a revolving door for more than a decade. While a share of the blame must go to the train-wreck around them in their second season together, the door began spinning at breakneck speed again this offseason, with Wright given the freedom to pursue work elsewhere (eventually to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers), and Conte continuing to recover physically from shoulder surgery and mentally from seemingly being so visible during opposing touchdown celebrations.
Five-time Pro Bowler Adrian Wilson was signed to a low-risk, high-reward one-year deal on Monday. Even before missing last season with a torn Achilles before even suiting up for his new team in New England, his play had already started to slip in his 12th and final campaign in Arizona. The Bears and the 34-year-old will find out in Bourbonnais whether he can come anywhere close to the stunning stats he piled up in the desert.
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Wilson became the fourth new experienced veteran safety that general manager Phil Emery brought in since the outset of free agency, following ex-Packer M.D. Jennings, former Cowboy Danny McCray, and the first new face brought in minutes after the market opened, Ryan Mundy.
Mundy admits to being aware of the franchise's recent instability at the position before signing his two-year deal. Nine of his 14 career starts came last year, his lone season with the Giants.
"Anytime you see an opportunity, you should take it," Mundy said last Thursday as the three-day minicamp concluded. "That's why I'm here. So far I think I've done a good job this offseason. I've let the coaches know I'm willing and able to do whatever they've asked me to do."
That's been working with the starting defense on the strong side, which is where Wilson has played his entire career. If there's anything left in Wilson's tank, it may not necessarily knock Mundy from the lineup, because he played his share of both spots backing up a very good tandem during his first four NFL years in Pittsburgh.
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"I played both safety positions (with the Steelers). When Troy Polamalu was out of the game, I played strong. When Ryan Clark was out, I played free. Last year in New York, I was working with Antrel Rolle (after Will Hill was injured), and we're both kind of bigger guys, so we just rotated, whatever we felt comfortable doing. This year, I've been lining up on the strong side. But I just consider myself a `safety' because you never know who could go down or what the team needs you to do. You need to be able to do both."
Fourth-round draft pick Brock Vereen took the bulk of the snaps paired with Mundy with the top defensive unit the past month, but head coach Marc Trestman tapped the brakes on speculation that meant Vereen was Week 1 starter material, while waiting on Conte's health or ability to have a bounce-back season. But Mundy, Wilson, Craig Steltz, and the rest of the new faces give the ex-Golden Gopher some veterans to lean on.
"He's an excellent young player, very head smart," Mundy says of Vereen. "He has a lot of athleticism, agility and ability. He's a rookie still. He's gonna have rookie mistakes and rookie moments, but he's progressing nicely."
And "progressing" is the least Bears fans can expect at the most exposed position on a defense that got burned in franchise-record-setting fashion.