By Adam Hoge-
SEATTLE — The safety competition has provided few highlights this preseason, but Chris Conte changed that Friday night.
Unfortunately, he also left the Bears’ 34-6 loss to the Seahawks with a concussion.
Conte showed off his straight-line speed and wasn’t afraid to lower his shoulder and hit. Playing in his first game since undergoing offseason shoulder surgery, the safety broke up a sure touchdown when he dislodged the ball from Seahawks tight end Luke Willson in the end zone. It was a clean, well-timed hit.
“I think the hit was a terrific hit,” Trestman said. “Clean, head was in front, dislodged the football.”
To be honest, it was the best play we’ve seen from any of the safeties this preseason. And, given that Conte was receiving first-team reps at the time, it was the kind of play that very well may have won him his starting job back.
But then Conte left the game with a concussion in the third quarter. Worse, the concussion occurred on an all-too-familiar missed tackle, really his only blunder of the night.
The severity of the concussion will obviously have an impact on whether or not Conte can secure a starting job, but don’t jump to any wild conclusions that he’ll be cut. He showed Friday night that he can still play, and he’s probably one of the two best safeties on the roster right now.
Bears Roll With Santonio
New Bears wide receiver Santonio Holmes was able to play Friday night despite just joining the team a week ago. He was limited to 17 snaps as he continues to learn the offense, but he did receive a few plays with the first-team. Later in the game, with Jordan Palmer at quarterback, Holmes caught a 7-yard slant for a first-down.
After the game, Trestman said he could see Holmes’ speed, noting that on one play where he wasn’t targeted, Holmes ran a go-route and beat his man.
It was a decent start for Holmes, who figures to see more time Thursday in Cleveland, but he’s by no means guaranteed a roster spot. One of the few positives in Seattle was the continued strong play of Josh Morgan, who caught three passes for 48 yards. On one particular play, Jay Cutler threw a perfect back-shoulder pass and Morgan adjusted in the air to haul it in. Earning the back-shoulder trust from Cutler is significant. In fact, Cutler maybe got too comfortable with Morgan as his only interception came when he tried to throw to Morgan in the end zone with the receiver double-covered.
With Marquess Wilson still nursing a broken collarbone, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the Bears to keep both Morgan and Holmes, as long as they can make the special teams numbers work. And speaking of Wilson, he is eligible to go on Injured Reserve to Return (which would keep him out the first half of the season) without being subject to waivers after the roster is cut to 53 players. The deadline to cut rosters down to 53 is Saturday. Whether or not the Bears choose to take that IR to Return option will give us a better idea of how much time Wilson is expected to miss.
While the developments on defense were concerning — particularly because the problems looked so similar to last year — it’s definitely not time to panic about the offense. Cutler wasn’t particularly sharp, but Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery were both guilty of drops. Drops for Jeffery are very rare and he usually hauls in the catch that would have been a 47-yard touchdown on the first drive. Byron Maxwell did a nice job to get his hands in there at the right time, but it was still a play that could have been made.
It’s never a good thing when an offense doesn’t score, but the unit wasn’t that far away Friday. There were little mistakes that cost them — mistakes that can’t happen in the regular season — but overall, the mood on the offensive half of the locker room wasn’t too concerning.
“We were never shellshocked out there,” Cutler said. “I thought we handled the noise well. We got to our checks in a reasonable time. We just missed a few big plays out there that I think could’ve changed the game for us.”
One positive was that the Bears were able to get the run game going a little bit. Matt Forte only received three carries, but he averaged 5.7 yards per carry. The offensive line still has some things to clean up — particularly on the right side where right tackle Michael Ola was inconsistent — but they are close to getting right tackle Jordan Mills back. He was on the field for warmups before the game and might be able to return against the Browns Thursday.
No Answers In Return Game
Of all the areas on the roster, kick/punt returner has the fewest answers. Of course, it doesn’t help when the defense only forces one punt.
The Bears were hoping to be able to evaluate Chris Williams Friday night, but he was a late scratch as his hamstring tightened up during pre-game warmups. For a guy with zero pre-season reps and zero NFL experience, you would think not playing Friday would greatly diminish his chances of making the roster. But is it possible that the Bears actually view him as their best option and didn’t want to risk further injury? Given what they’ve seen from the rest of the group, that seems plausible.
Last year, Marc Trestman kept all of his starters out of the fourth preseason game, but that was following an all-around good performance against the Raiders in the third preseason contest. The clunker in Seattle might tempt the Bears to get the starters some work, especially on defense.
The guess here is that most the offensive starters and the starting defensive line is held out in Cleveland. Linebackers Lance Briggs and D.J. Williams, as well as cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, would also seem like candidates to sit, but the rest of the linebackers and secondary need the work. If Ryan Mundy is declared a starter at safety, he might not play either.
It will be interesting to see what the Bears do with Mills. He sat out the fourth preseason game as a rookie last year, but he has yet to play this preseason. He could use some playing time, but if you play him, wouldn’t you also want to put right guard Kyle Long out there with him? I could see the Bears being safe with Mills and just holding him out completely.
So is the No. 1 offense ready to go if Friday night’s performance was its last work before the opener? Cutler thinks so.
“If we don’t (play in Cleveland), I feel confident in where we are at,” he said.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for 87.7 The Game and TheGameChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.