Smith endorses Conte-Wright DB tandem

Chris Conte and Major Wright could be the Bears' starting safeties in 2012. MRQ/Icon SMI

INDIANAPOLIS -- Turnover at safety might finally come to an end, with Bears coach Lovie Smith expressing a comfort level Wednesday with Chris Conte and Major Wright as the team’s starters going into 2012.

Smith added that “I don’t think we’ve been in this good of a position at safety,” as the club appears to be in now with Conte and Wright as the starters.

“I think I’m on record on how I feel about Major Wright,” Smith said from the NFL Combine. “He’s a good football player; a great football player that hasn’t had an offseason with us yet truly. I’m just as excited about Chris Conte. We made moves of getting rid of… going a different direction on a couple of players last year because of Chris Conte.”

The Bears lined up eight combinations of starters at safety last season. But in the six games Wright and Conte started together, the Bears nabbed eight interceptions, and gave up four touchdowns while limiting opposing quarterbacks to a passer rating of 68.9.

In 10 games the Bears took the field without Conte and Wright as the starting safeties, the team allowed 18 touchdowns and an opponent passer rating of 85.8.

Still, it’s not unreasonable to question the duo’s durability. In just two seasons, Wright has missed nine games with hamstring and shoulder injuries. Conte finished the season on the injured reserve after spraining an ankle on Dec. 18 against the Seattle Seahawks.

So for Smith, finding quality backups behind Conte and Wright might be one of the pressing issues of the offseason.

“I’m excited about [Conte and Wright],” Smith said. “But at the same time, we do need to provide more depth.”

Unsolicited, Smith mentioned Craig Steltz as a potential option in free agency. Steltz started four of the last five games, and contributed 37 tackles and a sack in addition to forcing two fumbles.

“He’s done a super job in every role we’ve put him in since he’s been here,” Smith said.

All indications are that Steltz would like to return if given a real opportunity to compete for one of the starting jobs. Free agent Brandon Meriweather would also appear to be an option as a potential backup, but Smith seemed lukewarm about the safety’s short tenure in Chicago.

A two-time Pro Bowler, Meriweather started four games and registered 39 tackles, but was held out of five contests, including the last two. The club paid Meriweather $3.25 million in 2011 for essentially four mostly fruitless starts.

“He came in a tough situation, was always in catch-up mode, and it didn’t work out,” Smith said. “I really liked him being on our football team. He showed up every day to go to work. Again, for a lot of us starting with me, the season didn’t go the way we wanted it to go.”