They used five different safeties at the position and used over eight different combinations.
Veteran Chris Harris disappointed enough to the point of his departure midway through the season.
This was after his return in 2010 for his second stint, where he performed at a high level.
Major Wright showed flashes, but struggled at times to stay healthy. Staying healthy seems to be a theme with Wright.
Rookie Chris Conte surprisingly brought the most consistency at the position despite his lack of experience.
Veteran Brandon Meriweather was expected to be a solid contributor for the team, but he turned out to be a disappointing player with poor judgement on the field.
Safety isn’t one of the biggest needs at this point for the Bears, but if they can find a solid veteran in free agency they will likely be better off.
Don’t expect for the Bears to use one of their eight picks on a safety because their secondary is already filled with youth.
Free agency will be the area will they will weigh their options.
Where they Stand
-Major Wright: Made 11 starts in 12 games played this past season. He racked up 57 tackles and reeled in three interceptions. After Chicago’s Week 8 bye week, he made an interception in three straight games. Unfortunately his health remained a problem. He missed five games due to various injuries. He should project into the starting lineup for the upcoming season, but the Bears may want to bring in some veteran competition to bring the best out of him.
-Chris Conte: As a rookie out of Cal, Conte was able to start nine of the 14 games that he appeared in. He made 30 tackles and reeled in one interception. He showed his athleticism and rawness at the position throughout the season. He was mainly a cornerback at the collegiate level, so for him to play as the last line of defense was a big change for him. He needs to bulk up a little bit. Safeties like him tend to get hurt because they are too little for the bigger receivers and tight ends in the league. Look for him to compete for a starting safety spot next season.
-Craig Steltz: The fourth-year safety stepped up when his number was called this past season. In 16 games, he made five starts. He racked up 54 tackles, 1.0 sacks and two forced fumbles. He is in the final year of his rookie contract and the Bears really like what he brings to special teams. He isn’t the best in coverage, but he really shines as the eighth man in the box. Look for the Bears to try to bring him back for a reasonable price because of his steady contributions on special teams.
-Brandon Meriweather: Signed a one-year deal this off-season after getting dumped by the New England Patriots. The Bears should have known a release from the Patriots meant he wasn’t the player everyone thought he was. He racked up 32 tackles in 11 games, making four starts. Don’t expect the Bears to resign Meriweather, who seemed to be a pricey mistake for $3.25 million on the season. He projects to be somewhere else for the 2012 NFL season.
-Anthony Walters: Appeared in four games making one tackle after working his way onto the team from the practice squad. Was used strictly on special teams, until he suffered a season-ending hamstring injury in Week 4. He will be considered a long shot to make the team considering the Bears would like to bring in some more depth at the position.
-Winston Venable: Appeared in 12 games making four tackles. Used on special teams as a replacement for Walters. He was used in practices often as a linebacker because of the lack of depth at the position. He will be considered a long shot to make the team similar to Walters. It could come down to one or the other.
Chicago’s free agents: Steltz, Meriweather
Targets in Free Agency
-Dashon Goldson, San Fransisco 49ers, UFA
-Tom Zbikowski, Baltimore Ravens, UFA
-Chris Hope, Tennessee Titans, UFA
-Brodney Pool, New York Jets, UFA
Zbikowski Would Welcome A Return To Chicago
Dashon Goldson is likely going to return to San Fransisco, where he flourished last season reeling in six interceptions. It would be a shock if he didn’t return there. Hope and Pool are two veterans who have flashed their talents with two different teams, but are destined for a new gig somewhere else. Either of them would be a solid player to have in the secondary, but Zbikowski makes the most for Chicago.
Zbikowski is a hometown kid, who spent his college years at Notre Dame. The 26-year old is super athletic and would be a solid contributor on special teams. He has experience in the return game as well if needed. He would likely come at a reasonable price as well.
Don’t be shocked if the Bears sign Zbikowski, a safety, who spent his time during the lockout as a professional boxer.
Jake Perper is the owner and head writer for Bearsbacker.com. He is also the Chicago Bears writer for NFLTouchdown.com. Follow him on Twitter, @Bearsbacker and on Facebook for up to the minute news about the Bears.