With veteran Chris Conte sidelined by shoulder surgery, rookie defensive back Brock Vereen is starting to impress the Chicago Bears. It was well documented last season how terrible the play from the safety position was for the Bears, which means there may be a new starting tandem there heading into the 2014 NFL season.
This offseason, the Bears parted ways with strong safety Major Wright after four underwhelming seasons in Chicago. Conte, Wright’s playing partner, drew the ire of most Bears fans for his subpar play most of the season. It was his blown coverage that led to Aaron Rodgers‘ 48 yard TD pass to Randall Cobb in the closing minutes of their week 17 matchup with the Green Bay Packers which knocked the Bears out of playoff contention.
As the offseason began, Conte underwent surgery on his shoulder for an injury that has reportedly been bothering him since the 2012 season. Meanwhile, the Bears drafted Brock Vereen in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft. The team also added safeties Ryan Mundy, M.D. Jennings and Danny McCray via free agency.
Vereen has since spent much of his time taking snaps at free safety with the first-string defense during the team’s OTAs, and Mundy has been tabbed as the replacement for Wright at SS. With Conte on the shelf rehabbing from his shoulder surgery until August, Vereen has a golden opportunity to move ahead of the veteran on the depth chart.
Although Conte’s play suffered last season, he still has 40 NFL starts under his belt and was able to pick off four passes in 2013, which is four more than every other safety on the roster combined. It is that experience that may well keep Conte ahead of Vereen when the team kicks off against the Buffalo Bills in Week 1.
What head coach Marc Trestman and his staff will need to determine is whether or not that experience is worth starting a guy who will be rusty and possibly out of shape over a young player that is hungry to prove himself in the league.
The biggest determining factor here will be Vereen’s play during the preseason. If he can successfully navigate on the field, help in run support, and not get lost in coverage as most rookies are prone to do, then I believe he would have earned the chance to start over Conte.