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updated: 8/10/2014 10:56 PM

Conte, Steltz back to battle for Bears' DB jobs

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  • Chris Conte has returned from a shoulder injury to fight for a position in the Bears secondary.

      Chris Conte has returned from a shoulder injury to fight for a position in the Bears secondary.
    Associated Press

 
 

BOURBONNAIS -- Tight end Martellus Bennett wasn't the only player who returned to the practice field Sunday afternoon in front of an estimated 17,500, the second-highest attendance since the Bears moved to Olivet Nazarene University in 2002.

Safeties Chris Conte (shoulder) and Craig Steltz (groin) practiced for the first time. Cornerback Tim Jennings (quad) returned for the first time since Aug. 31 and defensive end Jared Allen participated for the first time since Aug. 1, when he was excused to be with his wife for the birth of their second daughter. Guard Kyle Long, who has missed most of camp with a viral infection and then a minor ankle injury, was back with the ones.

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Jennings and Allen also stepped right back into their spots in the starting lineup, but it's a whole different ballgame for Conte and Steltz.

The safety position is overrun with contenders at both the strong and free spots, where the Bears added four free agents, one draft pick and an undrafted free agent in the off-season.

Two of the free agents, Ryan Mundy and Danny McCray, have been getting most of the first-team reps, and they started Friday night in the preseason opener. But 34-year-old free agent Adrian Wilson and fourth-round rookie Brock Vereen have also worked with the ones, as has M.D. Jennings, on occasion.

"It's been a long road for them," Bears coach Marc Trestman said of Steltz and Conte. "We're starting to work them in. Obviously they've got a ways to go, but they're on the field now, and that's a start."

It will be an uphill battle for both.

Steltz has been a backup and special teams standout for most of his six previous seasons, starting just eight games but ranking second on the Bears with 58 special teams tackles since his rookie season of 2008.

"You fight every year," Steltz said. "It's no different (this year). From Year 1, and now it's Year 7, it's no different."

Conte moved into the starting lineup as a rookie, third-round draft pick in 2011. He's started 40 games in three seasons, including all 16 last year, which was, ironically, his worst. As the last line of defense on a weak unit, Conte probably received more blame than he deserved.

Now, he's a man on a mission. The inactivity following his March 26 surgery gave the 6-foot-2, 203-pound Conte a lot to think about.

"A lot of soul searching, a lot of time focusing on myself physically and mentally," he said, describing his off-season. "It was a good time for me to get better in a lot of areas, so hopefully I'm a better person and a better football player. I want to be a better player than I was and help us win the championship.

"I learned to keep people close to me that I care about and always know that the people that support me are the only people that really matter."

And those who don't"

"I've got a list of a lot of things I want to do and a lot of people I want to prove wrong," Conte said. "There are a lot of goals that I have, a lot of things that I'm looking forward to, but I'm taking it one day at a time."

•  The offensive line is in a weakened condition. Backup Brian de la Puente, who started Friday in place of Kyle Long (ankle), suffered a sprained knee in the game and expects to be out "a couple weeks." Backup guard-tackle Eben Britton has been out since July 30 with a hamstring injury, and starting right tackle Jordan Mills (left foot) is in a walking boot as a preventative measure. ... The Bears signed offensive lineman Rob Turner and cut Braham Pocic, who is from Lemont.

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