BOURBONNAIS — Arlington Heights native and Hersey High School graduate Tom Nelson faces an uphill battle to make the final 53-man roster at a safety position loaded with NFL experience.
Behind starters Major Wright and Chris Conte are sixth-year Bears veteran Craig Steltz, who has played in 61 games, and third-year player Anthony Walters, who started the 2012 season finale.
Brandon Hardin, the Bears’ 2012 third-round draft choice, and first-year player Cyhl Quarles are listed with the third team, followed by Nelson and Buffalo Grove High School product and fellow Arlington Heights native Tom Zbikowski on the fourth team. Probably only four or five will make the final roster.
In such a crowded house, even practice reps are at a premium for everyone beyond the second team.
“There’s lot’s of competition,” said Nelson, who has played in 24 games and started three times in three NFL seasons with the Bengals and Eagles. “You can only control what you control as far as the reps go. You’ve just got to make the most of them when you’re out there, just like it’s always been for a guy like me in training camp.
“It’s really nothing new there. You know you’re not going to get as many chances as everybody else. But you’ve got to make something with it.”
Nelson, who started 46 games at Illinois State, is in his fifth training camp, so he knows the drill and what he needs to do to maximize his chances.
“Consistency is key,” he said. “You come out there every day. You hustle. You do the things you’re asked to do. You show up on film. You don’t make mental mistakes, and that’s all you can do.
“If the quarterback doesn’t throw it, you’re not going to have chances to make plays, especially when you’re only out there a couple of times. But it’s consistency — doing your job each and every time and showing them that they can trust you.”
Tackle Henry Melton hints that the defense has gotten the best of the offense more often than not with almost two weeks of training camp completed. The defensive line especially has frequently gotten good penetration in pass-rush situations.
“Oh, we can tell,” Melton said. “We’re not hitting Jay (Cutler) or anything like that, but when we go back and look at film, we can tell when guys are winning. A lot of our guys are winning right now. That’s not putting anything (negative) toward the O-line right now. Everybody’s winning (some) and losing (some). But we look pretty good.
“We’re trying to start how we started last year and keep that momentum through the whole season. We kind of died off towards the end, and we just want to try and keep that going.”
After six games last season the defense was No. 1 in points allowed and interceptions percentage, No. 2 in rushing yards per game, No. 4 in sack percentage and third-down efficiency and No. 6 in total yards allowed. Most of those numbers dipped slightly by the end of the season, although the defense dropped to No. 11 in sack percentage.
Running back Matt Forte was given a day off Tuesday, defensive end Julius Peppers had an excused absence and Earl Bennett continues to be evaluated for a concussion.
Cornerback Kelvin Hayden (hamstring), linebacker D.J. Williams (calf) and offensive tackle Jonathan Scott (knee) remain out.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.