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Emma: Bears' Safety Competition Marked By Youth

By Chris Emma--

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) -- Recent history has seen the Bears stuck in a rut in drafting safeties.

Names like Brandon Hardin, Al Afalava, Craig Steltz, Kevin Payne and more never became the next Mike Brown in Chicago. Former executives Jerry Angelo and Phil Emery missed on their safety picks year after year.

Bears general manager Ryan Pace is trying to buck that trend, looking to bring his team stability at the last line of defense. He may have hit on 2015 fifth-round pick Adrian Amos, who started each game of his rookie season and recorded 67 tackles. Now, Chicago is working to identify its other safety.

With OTAs nearing at Halas Hall, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is preparing for the possibility that his revamped defense will feature two really young safeties -- it's just a matter of identifying who they are.

"When you have a young group like that, it's been my philosophy to throw everything at them," Fangio said. "See how they react, and then as you learn more about them as you go, maybe curtail it back if you need to. Because then it's hard to put new concepts in if they haven't had the foundation in offseason work and training camp."

When Deon Bush was drafted out of Miami in the fourth round in late April, he spoke of his close relationship with a Hurricanes great, Antrel Rolle. Not even 24 hours, the Bears cut Rolle from the team to get younger, faster and perhaps more talented at safety.

Welcome to the NFL, Deon.

"Football is a business," Bush said. "Antrel is still like a brother to me. He still calls me to help me out. He's still got my back."

Because of a move like this, Bush has a better opportunity -- and faces more pressure -- to win over the starting job alongside Amos. He enters a competition with veterans Chris Prosinski and Harold Jones-Quartey, each added to the depth chart midway through last season. Bears sixth-round pick DeAndre Houston-Carson could be considered a candidate to start at safety, too, and the team hasn't ruled out fourth-round pick Deiondre' Hall as a safety, though he's likely a cornerback.

Pace's work with the roster would suggest the Bears will go with youth at safety. It could be Bush, the hard-nosed hitter, who gets the starting nod.

"I always took pride on being physical, being tough," Bush said. "That's just the way I play the game."

Last season, Prosinski started five games and Jones-Quartey started four, assuming the workload of the injury-plagued Rolle. While Amos became a pleasant surprise, the Bears' secondary struggled, specifically at safety. The Bears would prefer a new direction alongside Amos.

Both Prosinski and Jones-Quartey will get their chances to retake the starting job, though neither particularly earned it last year. Bush is a leading contender to start, and Houston-Carson could make the competition interesting.

Houston-Carson has played safety for just one season and projects to play an important special teams role with the Bears. He blocked an astounding nine kicks during his career at William & Mary, and Bears special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers is itching to use his new weapon.

"Just keep your eye on the ball, like baseball," Houston-Carson said with a smile.

Don't count out Houston-Carson as the starting safety. He had 109 tackles and four interceptions in 2015 en route to first-team FCS All-American honors.

The Bears hope the raw Houston-Carson can develop into an NFL safety.

"I'm just continuing to improve my game as far as small technical things at the safety position," he said.

Consider it surprising if anybody were to beat out Amos for the other safety position. He failed to record an interception last season, raising questions about his ball skills, but was sound in run responsibilities. In drafting Amos with the pick acquired in the Brandon Marshall trade with the Jets, the Bears appeared to finally hit on a safety selection.

Perhaps Pace can strike again with drafting a starting safety, because the potential is there for Bush and Houston-Carson to make an impact.

Chris Emma covers the Chicago sports scene and more for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

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