Bears trying different combinations at safety
BOURBONNAIS -- At what has been and will continue to be a position in transition, former Cowboy Danny McCray and ex-Giant Ryan Mundy were paired as the Bears' first-team safeties during Wednesday's practice.
The starters could be different today, and it's anyone's guess who will line up with the first team in the preseason opener Aug. 8. There are a lot of moving parts to evaluate.
In his first four seasons, all with the Cowboys, McCray established himself as a special-teams standout with 74 tackles, and in 2012 he started 10 games at safety. But that was the only season in which he started on defense.
McCray was one of four veteran unrestricted free agents the Bears signed to upgrade a position that could have been declared a federal disaster area in 2013, joining Mundy, M.D. Jennings (Packers) and Adrian Wilson (Patriots).
The Bears also drafted Brock Vereen in the fourth round. The Vereen-Mundy tandem is the combo that has gotten most of the first-team reps, but the 6-foot-1, 221-pound McCray got a shot Wednesday in front of 10,500 fans, this year's biggest crowd.
"We wanted to take a look at him," coach Marc Trestman said. "He's been practicing well. We've said all along the safety position is wide open, and we wanted to take a look at him with the first group.
"He's been in the right place in terms of covering and in terms of the run game. His effort level has been very high. He's a highly intelligent football player. He's played consistently and continued to ascend over the last few days. We'll see what the tape shows."
Trestman cautioned against reading too much into any one day this early in camp. Coaches haven't seen enough to make any final decisions. Besides, Chris Conte, last year's starting free safety, and veteran backup Craig Steltz haven't even practiced yet because of injuries.
So McCray wasn't exactly overwhelmed after practice.
"It's Day 5," he said. "So the excitement is not really there. I just know that I got a good opportunity to go out there and show what I can do. They're just moving people around to see what fits and who can make plays."
With McCray temporarily promoted, Vereen worked with the second team, paired with 14th-year veteran Wilson, a five-time Pro Bowler trying to bounce back from missing all of last season because of a foot injury.
"I don't think you can read (anything) into moving Brock down and Danny up today," Trestman said. "How does (Vereen) handle it, moving him around? And how does Danny handle moving up? It all goes into the gathering of information to make decisions at the end."
Vereen started 18 games at cornerback, 11 at free safety and seven at strong safety at Minnesota and was first-team all-Big Ten at safety last year. The 5-11, 199-pounder said he benefits regardless of which group he practices with.
"You learn the most in the film room, really," Vereen said. "Whether you're with the ones, two or threes, you need to find out what you did wrong and make sure it doesn't happen again."
Among the safeties, the 6-1, 209-pound Mundy has spent the most time with the ones. After starting just five games in four seasons (plus one year on the practice squad) with the Steelers, he started nine games for the Giants in 2013.
The former sixth-round pick knows all about competition, having played behind Pro Bowlers Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark in Pittsburgh.
"All we can do is take care of ourselves," he said. "We've got a good group here. No one's selfish or getting jealous of anyone. We're all working collectively. We understand that we need to push each other, and the best people will win. It's a competition. That's the way it played out today."
That's what the Bears told McCray when he visited in free agency.
"(They said) 'Everybody has an equal chance,' and they've shown that throughout OTAs and minicamp," he said. "And it's still showing here in training camp."