It's time for a few players on the 2013 Chicago Bears to receive a little time in the spotlight while we inform a couple of others that their 15 minutes of fame was up half an hour ago.
Chris Conte, Safety
The Bears have one of the best secondaries in the NFL. At strong safety is Major Wright who started all 16 games of the season for the first time in his career in 2012 while contributing 4 interceptions and 52 tackles. At cornerback are the two ball hawks, 2012 Pro Bowl starters Charles "Peanut" Tillman and Tim Jennings. One reason why Tillman and Jennings can play so aggressively to the ball resides in deep centerfield of the Bears' defense, free safety Chris Conte.
Conte was selected in the third round by the Bears in 2011 and is one of only two players still on the roster from that draft. Second round pick, defensive tackle Stephen Paea is the other.
Conte made the first start of his career in Week 6 of 2011 against the Minnesota Vikings after Week 5 starter Chris Harris was burned badly on two long plays in a Monday night game against the Detroit Lions. Coincidentally, Major Wright also made his first career start in that game in place of Brandon Meriweather.
With clear instructions to keep all plays in front of him Conte spent the next eight weeks playing free safety like he had the plague. Running plays were usually over by the time he covered the ground from his starting position to the point of attack, but no plays got past him.
Despite being on injured reserve for the final two weeks of the season because of a foot sprain Conte was named to the 2011 Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie team. He finished with 30 tackles and 1 interception.
Last season, Conte separated his shoulder in the second preseason game but was ready for Week 1 when, n the third quarter, he intercepted an Andrew Luck pass to stop a Colts scoring drive. Conte was sixth on the Bears in tackles last season with 51 and assisted on 16 more. He also showed that he was ready to step up as a heavy hitter after being fined $21,000 in Week 8 against the Carolina Panthers' Brandon LaFell.
Conte has the speed, ball awareness and tackling ability to became an impact player on the Bears' defense. After the 2013 season there should be nothing underrated about his game.
Michael Bush, Running Back
Bush was signed in 2012 by the Bears as a free agent to be the short yardage and goal line running back, two areas of weakness in Matt Forte's game. That he only scored five touchdowns in 13 games for the Bears in 2012 was a disappointment until it was disclosed that he had played the season with a broken bone in his shoulder.
When Bush signed with the Bears he and Forte had both been in the league five seasons. Both had averaged 4.2 Yards per Carry in their careers but in 382 fewer lifetime carries, Bush had matched Forte with 21 career touchdowns.
Forte is still the most important running back on the team. Bush can't do what he can in the passing game but when it's time to pick up tough yardage, with his shoulder healthy, Bush will be an important part of the offense when it comes to extending drives in 2013.
Robbie Gould, Placekicker
When people discuss the top placekickers in the NFL names are mentioned like Blair Walsh, Matt Bryant, Sebastian Janikowski are called before Robbie Gould shows up on the list, yet he is No. 6 on the list of all-time leaders with an 85.6 Career Field Goal Percentage.
In one of the toughest places to kick a football in the NFL, Soldier Field, Gould gives the Bears a better chance of a successful field goal than those mentioned earlier along with Ryan Longwell, Morton Anderson and Jason Hanson, all who had the advantage of domed home fields to kick in.
The wind off of Lake Michigan can be blowing the goalpost flags one direction while Gould is facing a completely different set of conditions on the field at the floor of the stadium. That he's successful as much as he has been is the ultimate tribute to his skills as a kicker.
Devin Hester, Kick/Punt Returner, Former Wide Receiver
In the prime of his career there has been no one in NFL history, including Deion Sanders, who had the field vision and anticipation that made Hester the great kickoff/punt returner he was. Hester viewed the field, saw where his blocks would be setting up and picked the best path to the end zone before anyone had a chance to touch him.
To justify the money Hester was looking for when his rookie contract was up, the Bears decided to try to make use of his running ability at wide receiver, one of the most foolish decisions of the Jerry Angelo/Lovie Smith regime.
Hester could not do both. When he tried to do both he did them both with a degree of mediocrity that looked like the Bears' edition of Football Follies on the field. He did see a revival of his Superman kick return persona in 2010 and 2011 when Smith finally kept him off the field a majority of the time on offense but apparently Lovie Smith couldn't handle success. Hester was asked to play receiver again in 2012 and both parts of his game came apart again.
So far in 2013 under Mark Trestman, Hester has been forbidden from crossing the sideline whenever the offense is on the field and he's back to working on his kickoff/punt return game in camp. There's been talk that another big season on special teams for him could put Hester back on track for a possible Hall of Fame bid.
At this point, at age 30 and entering the eighth season of his career, it's difficult to believe that returning to duties strictly as a return man will bring back the Devin Hester that ran back the opening kickoff of Super Bowl XLI for a touchdown.
Matt Blanchard, Quarterback
It's apparent that the rest of the NFL sees Matt Blanchard for what he is, a reasonably talented, if ultimately limited quarterback who is gathering jerseys to hang in his basement den long after his career is over. Don't try to sell that descrtiption to a group of Chicago Bears fans that's more numerous than it has any right to be.
Blanchard was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Division III University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in 2012 and played well enough to be on the practice squad for most of the season. He is also a local boy who played quarterback for Lake Zurich high school, a suburb northwest of Chicago, hence the local interest in his possible success.
Blanchard never lost a game as the quarterback for UW-Whitewater. In his senior season he threw 23 touchdown passes for close to 3,000-yards and rushed for 452-yards. All very impressive except that it was accomplished against Division III competition at the UW-Whitewater, a school that up to now has never been renowned as a cradle of NFL quarterbacks.
Blanchard is now sidelined with a fractured knuckle he suffered in the second preseason game against the San Diego Chargers. It remains to be seen what the Bears will do with him with roster cuts coming up next week.
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