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Anthony Walters next man up for Bears’ battered secondary

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Updated: January 26, 2013 6:22AM

Losing starting free safety Chris Conte is just another blow to a defense that has suffered several injuries during a tough stretch. But second-year safety Anthony Walters said he’s up for the challenge.

Walters took over for Conte after he pulled his hamstring late in the first half of the Bears’ 28-13 victory against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. Walters became the Bears’ third safety after Craig Steltz was put on injured reserve Dec. 11.

Coach Lovie Smith didn’t say much about Conte on Monday, but if he can’t play against the Detroit Lions, it would be a significant loss.

Conte has started every game this season, living up to the hope that he’d be a starter for years to come. He recently has been used in more man-to-man coverage. Against the Cardinals, Conte was pitted against tight end Rob Housler and forced an incompletion in the end zone. But it was his last play of the game.

Walters said he’s “comfortable” if called on to start.

“We’ll have a whole week of practice for me to polish up some things,” Walters said. “[It] gives me more confidence that [the coaches] believe in me. They could have easily brought in a veteran and tried to play him as the third safety [Sunday], but they didn’t.”

Walters, a key contributor on special teams, took 33 snaps against the Cardinals, 45 percent of the Bears’ defensive plays. Walters said he felt “rusty.” He put a hard hit on receiver Larry Fitzgerald, but it came after a 24-yard completion.

“In the third quarter, I had a bust, which is uncharacteristic of me,” said Walters, who played cornerback at Delaware. “But I told [the coaches] and acknowledged that this happened. So [I’ll] just clean it up. [The Cardinals] didn’t go crazy on me.”

Smith said Walters did a “pretty good job” filling in for Conte. But he also said he’s concerned with the Bears’ depth at safety with Conte and Steltz hurt. The Lions will be a bigger test for the Bears’ secondary.

The Bears might look outside the organization — possibly at ex-Bear Chris Harris — for help.

“We’ll make decisions that give us the best chance to win in the end,” Smith said.

Either way, Walters already has been practicing at both safety ­positions.

“Free and strong, I’ll come in at whatever position they need me at,” Walters said. “It was the same thing with Craig. Craig was insurance. He just comes in and plays whatever.”

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