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updated: 9/3/2014 9:12 PM

Game of musical chairs for Bears at safety

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  • Safety Ryan Mundy is expect to start Sunday for the Bears in their opener against Buffalo.

      Safety Ryan Mundy is expect to start Sunday for the Bears in their opener against Buffalo.
    Associated Press

 
 

Bears coaches certainly can't be accused of rushing to judgment on determining who the starting safeties will be this season.

After OTAs, training camp and the preseason, the verdict still isn't in. Deliberation apparently will continue through Sunday's regular-season opener.

Chris Conte, who started 40 games at free safety the previous three years, hasn't been cleared to play Sunday. But he's in the final stages of the concussion protocol and was essentially a full participant at Wednesday's practice.

Ryan Mundy and Danny McCray started each of the first three preseason games at strong safety and free safety, respectively.

Mundy is expected to start Sunday at Soldier Field against the Bills, but the current plan is for all three to play, and the rotation also could include rookie Brock Vereen.

"We're gonna roll them in," coach Marc Trestman said after Wednesday's practice. "If Chris is up, we're going to rotate the safeties. We'll rotate them between Ryan and Danny and Chris. We'll rotate them around.

"Are we set on who we're going to start? No. but I expect all three of them will play, and Brock will get some work as well."

Coming off his worst season as a pro in 2013 and off-season shoulder surgery that kept him out of almost all of training camp, Conte played just a few handfuls of snaps in the third preseason game before he left with the concussion. His lights-out hit on Seattle tight end Luke Wilson saved a touchdown.

"He played fast, and he was aggressive," defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said of Conte. "We liked that."

Mundy and McCray, who both came aboard as unrestricted free agents in the off-season, are exceptional special-teams players.

Their impact in that area cannot be minimized after a preseason in which the Bears struggled mightily. Giving them occasional breathers on defense would allow both to make greater contributions in all four phases of special teams.

"I think one of the key advantages (of a rotation) is we've got special-teams duties for Mundy and McCray," Trestman said. "They're a big part of what we are special teams-wise. And a big part of why they were brought in here was to not only have the opportunity to start but have the opportunity to play special teams.

"So by rotating guys in we think we can keep them fresh and create an advantage special teams-wise as well."

Since he entered the league in 2008 as a Pittsburgh Steelers sixth-round pick out of West Virginia, Mundy has 64 special-teams tackles, tied for 10th among all players.

McCray has 74 special-teams tackles since he came into the league with the Dallas in 2010 as an undrafted free agent out of LSU. His 28 tackles as a rookie are third best in Cowboys history.

Whoever Mundy is paired with and however many snaps he gets -- more than anyone else would be a good guess -- he sees an opportunity to improve on a 2013 that he knows is best forgotten.

"It's been well documented about last year's defensive season," Mundy said, diplomatically. "We look at it as a great opportunity for us to restore the order because historically Bears football has been about defense. And we're excited about that opportunity and our first challenge."

From early in training camp, Mundy has shown to be the type of player the Bears thought they were getting after he started nine games for the New York Giants last year following his four years as a top backup with the Steelers.

"We knew we got a guy who had a championship pedigree," Trestman said. "He's been in a couple championship locker rooms, and I think that's a big advantage.

"He knows what a winning locker room feels like and looks like. He knows how to practice like champions practice, and he does that every day.

"He's got a high level of performance expectations that he puts upon himself. He's smart. He's a great communicator, and he's a sound football player.

"We've seen that throughout training camp and the preseason. He's been in the right place at the right time and done a lot of really good things for us, and he's really going to benefit us on special teams as well."

• Follow Bob's Bears and NFL reports on Twitter@BobLeGere.

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