INDIANAPOLIS – Amid the white noise surrounding whether the Bears would be a 4-3 or 3-4 team is a developing situation that could involve a major overhaul of the other four starters on the defense.
The possibility exists for the Bears to open 2014 with changes in three of the four spots in the secondary.
The foursome of cornerbacks Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman and safeties Chris Conte and Major Wright has started Game 1 of the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Conte and Wright have started 31 of the last 32 games together; Jennings and Tillman have been a matched set for most of the last four years before Tillman was lost to injuries in mid-2013.
Jennings was a priority post-season signing, with a new contract done in the hours following last season. But now Tillman is unrestricted and an uncertain re-sign for financial and physical reasons. Wright had a poor season and is a longshot to be back for a fifth Bears season.
And Conte, whose breakdowns proved extremely costly in 2013, is under contract but facing a very stiff challenge to retain his job as the No. 1 free safety.
“Chris knows he has to come in and compete to start,” GM Phil Emery said on Thursday. “My vision for him is that he does compete and win it. I’d love to be talking to him about an extension. So let’s see what he does.”
Coach Marc Trestman has been in frequent contact with the beleaguered safety and “he’s challenged by moving forward,” Trestman said. “He knows he’s got to get better. He’s working in any way he can at this point in time, working out and training, to get himself started…
“I think that he knows he didn’t play as well as he could play, he’s moving forward, which is a good thing…Chris Conte’s under contract. At this point, he’ll be with us [in training camp].”
The plan is for the Bears to address defensive line in the draft and free agency. And all of the defensive backs were victimized last season by recurring breakdowns in the line and linebacker areas.
But the message was clear that the onus is on Conte to fix Conte.
“I think the No. 1 thing for Chris making improvements is Chris himself,” Emery said. “I’m not counting on other guys getting better to help another player improve. It’s on them each individually and obviously collectively. If we improve individually we’ll improve as a group.”