Chris Conte won’t join Bears’ safety battle until later
BY PATRICK FINLEY Staff Reporter July 23, 2014 9:27PM
Updated: July 24, 2014 12:10AM
BOURBONNAIS — Chris Conte’s fight to restore his reputation won’t start Friday alongside his teammates.
Still not fully recovered from surgery on his right shoulder in March, the maligned Bears safety will start training camp on the physically unable to perform list and, general manager Phil Emery said Wednesday, will miss at least the first preseason game.
‘‘We anticipate that he’ll be back during the course of the preseason,’’ Emery said.
When that is — and how much time the Bears will have to evaluate him — was a question with no answer Wednesday. Emery said Conte’s participation in the last three preseason games will depend ‘‘on how well he practices and how well he responds to contact’’ in practice, assuming Conte returns to the field in the next two weeks.
When he does return, he’ll have company. Coach Marc Trestman spent part of Wednesday’s news conference at Olivet Nazarene University praising five-time Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson, signed in late June.
‘‘He’s been an outstanding player in this league for a very long time,’’ Trestman said. ‘‘One of the best to play this game.’’
Despite turning 35 in less than three months, Wilson has a real chance to make the team.
‘‘That position’s wide open,’’ Emery said. ‘‘If Adrian Wilson walks in here and he’s in football shape and, like the rest of them, stays healthy, he can claim the job. But he’s gonna have a fight on his hands.’’
Free-agent signee Ryan Mundy spent most of the spring with the starters. The Bears tried fourth-round pick Brock Vereen with the first team, too. Special-teams stalwart Craig Steltz — who Emery said should be cleared by Friday after having offseason groin surgery — and former Green Bay Packers starter M.D. Jennings also will fight for the four or five safety jobs.
Unlike in years past, though, the free and strong safety positions are ‘‘essentially interchangeable’’ this season, Trestman said.
‘‘We can make them both work, so we want to find the best two guys,’’ Trestman said. ‘‘Whoever those two guys are within the framework of our defense is what we’re looking to do.’’
Conte elected to have surgery in March — given a four- to five-month recovery timetable — to fix the shoulder he dislocated in 2012, which had worsened since. Emery called the surgery discussions ‘‘a shared process between our team physicians and our trainer and his doctor’’ but said the decision to opt for it is always the player’s call.
‘‘I can’t predict healing,’’ Emery said. ‘‘I wish I could — I’d make even more money than I’m making now — but Chris is where he’s at. He made the decision that he wanted surgery, and he pressed forward, and he’s in that recovery phase.’’