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4 Bears roster battles to keep an eye on

Bears first-round pick Kyle Long takes break during team's rookie minicamp May 10 Halas Hall.  |  Andrew A.

Bears first-round pick Kyle Long takes a break during the team's rookie minicamp May 10 at Halas Hall. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 25, 2013 6:10PM

With players reporting to ­Bourbonnais on Wednesday and the first practice scheduled for Friday, here are four roster battles to keep an eye on during coach Marc Trestman’s first camp and preseason:

1 Free safety Chris Conte and strong safety Major Wright are the starters, but a big competition is brewing behind them. There are eight safeties on the roster: Conte, Wright, Craig Steltz, Brandon Hardin, Anthony Walters, Tom Zbikowski, Tom Nelson and Cyhl Quarles.

Special-teams value will determine a lot, and right now Steltz and Walters have the edge. Steltz also is the most experienced backup, and Walters made his first career start in last season’s finale with Conte hurt.

Hardin, though, is the one to watch. The 2012 third-round pick missed all of last season because of a neck injury, which came after he missed all of his senior season at Oregon State because of shoulder surgery. At 6-3, 217 pounds, he’s bigger than the others and has looked good during offseason training. If that continues, local boys Nelson and Zbikowski could be in trouble.

2 Part of the reason the Bears drafted guard Kyle Long with the 20th overall pick — regardless of his limited experience in college — is because they believe he can make an immediate impact. In other words, start.

But second-year guard James Brown and veteran Matt Slauson aren’t just going to step aside. Brown and Slauson worked with the Bears’ first-team offense throughout Trestman’s offseason regimen, while Long was stuck working on his own and talking to his coaches over Skype because of an NFL rule.

How long will it take Long to usurp one of them?

3 Two positions in need of a depth upgrade from 2012 are wide receiver and tight end. And there should be some competitive fights to fill those spots. There are 18 receivers and tight ends on the roster.

Wide receiver Joe Anderson and tight end Fendi Onobun will get good looks from the Bears, including with the first-team offense.

The fourth and fifth receiver spots — which are important considering Alshon Jeffery’s and Earl Bennett’s injury histories and Trestman’s offense — will feature Anderson against rookie Marquess Wilson, 6-5 Terrence Toliver, veterans Eric Weems and Devin Aromashodu and others.

4 Former LSU running back/kick returner Michael Ford, an undrafted free-agent signing, did plenty of good things at rookie minicamp and at organized team activities, whether returning kicks or making big gains on short routes out of the backfield.

Two players should take notice of his talents: third-string running back Armando Allen and kick returner Devin Hester.

Allen made some plays when given the chance last season on offense and also contributed on special teams.

Hester has been relegated to solely being a returner for 2013.

—Adam L. Jahns

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