Bears Opt For Speed Over Experience At Safety....................
Speed at safety position crucial in today's NFL
Bears comfortable gambling on young, fast Conte, Wright
Dan Pompei On the NFL November 7, 2011
The Bears' new starting safety combo of Chris Conte and Major Wright might not always know where they are going Monday against the Eagles. But they should get there fast.And in today's NFL, that means something, if not everything.
The days of the slow-moving box safety are as over as Kim Kardashian's marriage.Or Chris Harris' career with the Bears. The 29-year-old Harris is not as fast as the 23-year-old Wright or the 22-year-old Conte. Of course, the 21-year-old Harris probably wasn't as fast as Wright or Conte either. You don't have to be an Olympic medalist if you are making plays. But the problem is Harris stopped making plays this year. Maybe he'll start again next week when he lines up for the Lions against the Bears.
In the meantime, Bears coach Lovie Smith is more comfortable gambling that Wright, who ran a 4.44 40-yard dash last year, and Conte, who ran a 4.52 40 this year, won't get burned by the likes of Eagles receivers DeSean Jackson, who ran a 4.35 40 three years ago, and Jeremy Maclin, who ran a 4.45 40 two years ago.
Because teams like the Eagles have so much speed at the receiver and tight end positions, and because more teams are using multiple receiver sets, every defense now needs two free safeties.That's what the Bears have — two safeties who are capable from an athletic standpoint of handling any assignment. "You can't have just the big, strong, in-the-box safety who can't cover," said Bears assistant Gill Byrd, who handles the safeties and played the position himself. "It's a liability because the offenses will create the mismatches."
It's a different game than it was 10 years ago, if not 10 minutes ago.The safety's role started to change in 2006. Naperville's own Sean Payton became head coach of the Saints then, and he started game-planning against and exploiting big box safeties like Roy Williams, then of the Cowboys. Those types of players were run out of the league.
"With the spread element, you are playing more in space," said former NFL safety and current Fox analyst John Lynch. "If you blitz, a safety is covering receivers as opposed to tight ends. The tight ends you do cover tend to be guys like (New Orleans') Jimmy Graham who can go get it." In the summer of 2008, a 36-year-old Lynch signed with the Patriots. In camp practices, coach Bill Belichick made him cover receiver Wes Welker, the quickest, most difficult player to keep up with the Patriots had. Belichick wasn't trying to embarrass Lynch. He was trying to see what was going to happen in a game.
If a safety is not capable of containing the fastest offensive player on the field, there is a good chance that at some point, it's going to show up on Sunday — especially if the opposing offense is coordinated by a creative thinker. Conte was always the fastest kid in his school. He ran the hurdles in high school, and he said at one point he was ranked third in the state of California.Playing cornerback for the first three years of his college career at Cal should help Conte play safety. Lynch says he would recommend every safety to play cornerback for a couple of years to help his development.
Conte calls speed "the most important tool you can have." But speed alone isn't enough. "It's not all about being a good athlete," Byrd said. "There is a mental component to it. The faster they get that part down, the quicker you will see the athleticism come out."
Throughout his career, Harris always has played faster than he runs because he prepares so well and is instinctive. Others play slower than they run on a track because they are unsure of themselves.It might take a while for Conte and Wright to be able to play as fast as they can. Their inexperience will work against their speed like sandbags tied around their waists. Eventually, though, they should get it. And then the Bears finally could be set at the position for a while.
Going with Conte and Wright is a move for the future. But it's not just the Bears' future. It's the future of the NFL.
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