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Rookie Brock Vereen surpasses Jennings, making run at starting safety spot

Updated: June 18, 2014 9:48PM



It was during a casual stroll out to practice on the Bears’ fourth day of organized team activities that safety Brock Vereen got the news that any rookie — any player, for that matter — wants to hear.

“[Defensive quality-control coach Chris Harris] said you’re going with the ‘ones’ today,” Vereen said.

With one day left in minicamp, he has remained with the “ones” — the Bears’ defensive starters featuring Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, Jared Allen and Jeremiah Ratliff — ever since.

The Bears’ competition at free safety remains wide-open — “We’re not going to anoint anybody yet,” coach Marc Trestman said Wednesday — but there’s no disputing that Vereen has stood out. He has surpassed former Packer M.D. Jennings while Chris Conte recovers from shoulder surgery.

“I feel like a rookie,” said Vereen, a fourth-round selection the Bears traded up to draft. “But there’s definitely a sense of confidence.”

Vereen’s experience playing cornerback and safety at Minnesota resonated with general manager Phil Emery. But it’s Vereen’s intelligence that has accelerated his rise.

Harris traveled to Vereen’s high school in Valencia, California, to evaluate him before the draft.

“When we got on the [white] board, he was able to articulate their defense,” said Harris, who evaluated many safeties before the draft. “Then I taught him one defensive call, and he was able to regurgitate it with all the checks that I gave him — everything. He seemed to grasp things quickly.”

Commending a player’s mental makeup has been a staple of the Trestman era, but when it’s a rookie drawing praise, it’s seems more noteworthy.

Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said Vereen pays “great attention to detail” and is “very sound from a technique standpoint.” Starting strong safety Ryan Mundy said Vereen is a “sponge who’s soaking up everything he can.”

Trestman described Vereen as a “good communicator” with “high football intelligence” who “seems to have found a way to be in the right place during the course of practice.”

“You can tell he’s a very intense kid,” defensive backs coach Jon Hoke said. “He’s very smart. He’s locked into what his job is. He’s come along very good. We thought that was the type of player we were getting from our pre-draft [work]. We’re very pleased with where he’s at.”

A true test for Vereen will come after Conte returns during the preseason. Conte has been heavily criticized after last season, but he still has the most starting experience of all the safeties.

“I told Chris I can’t wait to get him out there,” Tucker said.

But the longer Conte’s recovery lasts, the longer Vereen has to cement himself. He thanks Mundy, Tillman and others for his rapid ascent. He also keeps notes of things to improve, and they’re lengthy.

“I know that nothing’s set,” Vereen said. “I know that I have a longer road to go than I even realize at this point. I know we have plenty of time before that first game.”

Email: ajahns@suntimes.com

Twitter: @adamjahns



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