Rookie safety Steltz impresses veterans

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
 
 
Published8/7/2008 12:06 AM

During training camp last year, the Bears believed they had more than enough depth at safety to trade Chris Harris to the Panthers, where he became a starter.

But later in the season, after injuries to Mike Brown and Brandon McGowan, plus the ineffective play of Adam Archuleta, the secondary was left short-handed. This year's fourth-round pick, Craig Steltz of LSU, was chosen to provide depth for now and to soon contend for a starting spot.

 

"He's a very smart, instinctive player," Brown said of Steltz. "I think they're grooming him to be the next starting safety for the Chicago Bears."

The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Steltz has looked good in practice, frequently making plays on the ball, although he came in with more of a reputation as a physical hitter.

"He's doing a great job," cornerback Nate Vasher said. "It seems like he's starting to get more confident with the defensive calls we've been making. You can see his athletic ability coming to the forefront. I'll be eager to see how he does this preseason."

Forget about it: Safety Mike Brown has finished the past four regular seasons watching from the sidelines with an assortment of injuries that have kept him out of 43 of the previous 64 games.

He insists he won't be thinking about another injury during tonight's preseason opener, though.

"I don't worry about that, I really don't," he said. "I know some people find that hard to believe, but you can't play this game with any doubt, and I have no doubt.

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"I'm planning on playing the whole season. Now I've said that for all my career and it hasn't happened like that. But I've been hurt before, and I think when I've come out and played, I don't think you've seen any drop-off in my intensity or in the way that I play, and it's not going to be any different this year."

Brown didn't miss any games in his first four seasons and started 63 of the 64 he played.

Looking good: Cornerback Nate Vasher has seen enough of rookie running back Matt Forte to believe that he'll be a problem for Bears opponents this season.

"Just his goal line strength - he's given us problems at the goal line, by him having a nose for the end zone," Vasher said. "And his breakaway speed. I don't think anybody knows how extremely fast this man is. I don't think anybody is going to catch him from behind. Hopefully that will bring us a lot of big plays this year."

The Bears finished last in average gain per running play last season, so offensive coordinator Ron Turner is hoping Forte helps them do a better job of getting off the bus running the ball.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"He's looked really good since he walked in the building as far as OTAs, minicamps, and in training camp he's looked good," Turner said. "I think we're all anxious to see him when it's live."

Proving a point: Rookie running back Matt Forte said he isn't concerned that he'll be running behind a patchwork offensive line Thursday night against the Chiefs.

"Other guys have to get work, too," he said. "There are injuries that happen on the team all the time. So you have to cope with that and do your best."

Forte is more concerned with his own performance as the starter.

"I've got to show the coaches what I can do in full contact," he said. "I've got to prove I can run outside the tackles, inside the tackles, all of that."

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