By Chris Emma-
BOURBONNAIS (CBS) — The familiar questions surrounding the Bears’ competition at safety have involved the usual suspects.
Can Chris Conte ascend back into a starting role? Will newcomers Ryan Mundy or M.D. Jennings steal a spot? Where does rookie Brock Vereen fit into the mix?
A new name has emerged at Bears training camp in Bourbonnais, one that’s a bit more surprising: Danny McCray. The free-agent addition worked in with the first-team defense on Wednesday morning.
“Danny’s worked to the extent where he deserves to get some work there,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “That’s what we did today.”
The opportunity for McCray stems from a strong first five days of practice on Olivet Nazarene’s campus. In a wide-open competition for the team’s two safety spots, the four-year veteran may now be as good a bet as anyone, but he’s still tempering his emotions.
“It’s day five,” McCray said. “The excitement is not really there. I just know I got a good opportunity to go out there and show what I can do.”
McCray spent his first four seasons in the NFL as a member of the Dallas Cowboys, primarily serving as a special teams asset. It was one of the reasons Bears general manager Phil Emery was intrigued when signing him.
Working in with the Bears’ defense, McCray has shown his ceiling may be higher than just special teams.
“He’s been in the right place, in terms of covering and the run game,” Trestman said. “His effort level has been very high. He’s a highly intelligent football player. He’s played consistently and continued to ascend over the last few days. We wanted to get him in with the ones; that’s what we did today.”
Added Mundy, who started alongside McCray on Wednesday: “Danny brings a high level of energy to the game. He’s really active around the ball, and that’s something we value in this defense.”
Even in praising McCray, Trestman was quick to note it’s still early in camp, and each practice can be used for evaluation. The competition at safety remains wide open, as it will deep into the preseason.
The Bears have primarily played Mundy at the other safety spot, but Vereen has impressed in camp, too. Conte will add another piece to the puzzle when he returns to action, likely after the second preseason game. He’s recovering from a shoulder injury currently.
“Competition keeps you going,” Mundy said. “We’re having a great time with it. We understand we’re here to push each other. Collectively, as a group, we’ll get better, together.”
The test on Wednesday was switching out McCray with the ones and bumping Vereen down to the twos. Even for a rookie, Vereen has displayed the maturity and confidence of a veteran.
“I’m just happy to be out here, and I’m going to give my effort every play,” Vereen said.
Training camp is a day-to-day grind, with each rep in practice providing a potential springboard for the season. These first days have brought McCray, an unheralded name, into the spotlight. He hopes to stay there through the preseason.
“If I keep getting better and listening to the coaches,” he said, “it’ll come out well.”
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.