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Chris Conte, Stephen Paea must build on success

Updated: November 22, 2011 8:38AM

So far, so good for rookies Chris Conte and Stephen Paea. Now comes the hard part — getting better.

With the wind at their back in a blowout victory over the Vikings last week, Conte and Paea received passing grades in their first significant appearances on defense.

Conte started at free safety in place of Brandon Meriweather. Paea was part of the rotation at defensive tackle with starter Matt Toeaina out and had a sack of Donovan McNabb for a safety in the first quarter.

‘‘I think I did pretty well,’’ said Conte, a third-round draft pick from California. ‘‘The response I got from the coaches was, I did a good job. I flew around. That’s why they drafted me — I go full speed. I know I made some mistakes, and there are some things I have to clean up. I’m just looking to improve this week and continue to get better.’’

Coach Lovie Smith said Paea, who had not even been active in the first five games, will get more reps this week after his impressive debut. And defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli also was impressed.

‘‘A lot of quickness; the speed was great,’’ Marinelli said. ‘‘He’s always had a great motor, and he was very productive. We’re excited about him. He got his opportunity, and that’s everything in this league. When you get your opportunity, you’ve got to cash in. He did.’’

Injury update

The Bears might need Chris Harris already.

Safety Major Wright was limited in practice Thursday with a hip injury. But tight end Kellen Davis (elbow) and wide receiver Devin Hester (chest), who didn’t practice Wednesday, returned to full participation in practice.

Wide receiver Earl Bennett also practiced Thursday, but Smith would not commit to him being active Sunday. Offensive tackle Gabe Carimi (partially dislocated kneecap) and Toeaina (sprained knee) didn’t practice and aren’t expected to play.

For the Buccaneers, running back LeGarrette Blount (knee) and center Jeff Faine (biceps) didn’t practice.

Blount is leading the Buccaneers in rushing (77 carries, 328 yards, 4.3 per carry, three touchdowns). Earnest Graham (35-193, 5.5, 0 TDs) would replace him.

Defending Cutler

Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris gave a pretty balanced assessment of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler when asked about him this week.

‘‘He’s a guy that wants to win,’’ Morris said. ‘‘He’s very competitive. He’ll get out there and swing it around a bunch. If he gets hot, he’s really hot. If you can get after him a little bit and slow him down a little bit, you can get to him and make him frustrated.

‘‘But he’s a very good player, very talented — probably one of the most talented guys we’ll play this year. And I’ve got a lot of respect for what Jay can do and what he’s done to us in the past when he was at Denver.’’

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