The hardest thing for rookie safety Brock Vereen to overcome when he stepped into the huddle with the Bears’ No. 1 defense wasn’t the awe of being in a huddle with Jared Allen, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman and others. It wasn't even mastering the assignments.
It was telling people about it.
“If there’s anything the coaches are hardest on me about, it’s communication,” Vereen said. “That’s a key.” And what exactly do they want to hear from Vereen, particularly since rookies generally should be seen and not heard?
“Anything,” Vereen said, laughing. “The biggest thing they’re drilling into my head is that even if you don’t know what to say, just say something. It’s definitely a difference but if it makes the defense better, that’s what I’ve got to do.
Vereen must be saying mostly correct things, judging from his current billet. To put Vereen in just a bit of context:
Highly regarded safeties Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix from Alabama and Louisville’s Calvin Pryor were still undrafted when the Bears opted instead for cornerback Kyle Fuller with the No. 14 pick of the first round last May. Right now – which is utterly meaningless, of course – everybody is looking good.
The Packers were right on Clinton-Dix, the Jets on Pryor and the Bears on Fuller: All three are starting exactly where their teams projected them at this point, the safeties starting and Fuller the Bears’ nickel corner and playing well enough to allow the Bears to slide Tim Jennings inside on nickel and match Fuller up opposite Charles Tillman on the outside receivers.
Those successes could reasonably be expected. What has been perhaps the most pleasant surprise through the offseason was what the Bears did to address safety, trading up 35 spots from the fifth round into Denver’s in the fourth round and selecting Vereen from Minnesota.
Vereen has virtually established himself as the player to beat out for the No. 1 free safety position, situated alongside veteran free agent Ryan Mundy. Vereen is in the starting slot that had appeared finally secure in the person of Chris Conte the past two-plus years. Now Conte has perhaps his toughest competition since coming into the NFL via the third round of the 2011 draft, coming back from offseason surgery and needing to overtake an ascending Vereen.
“Brock has done a nice job,” said defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. “He has great attention to detail. He’s very sound from a technique standpoint. He’s smart; he plays fast. He does not make a lot of mistakes. That’s good to see.
“So I think it’s arrow-up with him. He’s doing an outstanding job so far. We’ll see how it goes. We have competition there. There’s nothing set in stone. So we’ll just continue to monitor him and the rest of the guys and we’ll end up with a good group I think.”
Fuller is not likely to be much help to Vereen. Not out of any professional issue or rivalry, but because the two have been roommates and Fuller is quiet, just what coaches don’t want Vereen to be.
“He’s a quiet guy,” Vereen said. “But he’s a heck of a football player and that’s evident.”
His installation with the No. 1 defense over the sampler of safeties signed this offseason (M.D. Jennings, Danny McCray, other options) did not surprise, Vereen, however.
“I wouldn’t use the word ‘surprised,’” Vereen said. “I’d say more ‘grateful for the opportunity.’ I hope to make the most of it. I think just being in the NFL in general hasn’t really sunk in. But I’m just trying to show that I can be a contributing factor to the team.”