LAKE FOREST – If it puts any Bears fans at ease after a less-than-inspiring preseason, Bills coach Doug Marrone said he has seen a “much-improved [Bears] defense” this summer compared to last year.
Then again, he is supposed to say that, but Marrone and Bills quarterback EJ Manuel do have the tricky task of preparing for a Bears defense without a ton of tape to go off, if we’re assume this group truly is “much-improved.”
“I still think they’ve always done a good job, obviously of creating turnovers,” Marrone said Wednesday on a conference call. “They do a good job obviously of covering. I think they’ve upgraded themselves on the inside with depth with the two young guys on the inside that are playing well.”
Manuel said they are looking at film from last year and this preseason to get ready for Sunday.
“They have great players,” said the second-year quarterback. “Lance Briggs is obviously one of the best linebackers in the league and we know he’s going to come out there and have high energy and great leadership in that position for their defense."
Marrone referred to his time playing the Bears when he was on the Saints’ offensive staff and also highlighted Briggs. He is not going to come to Soldier Field expecting last year’s Bears defense.
“There’s a lot of good players on that field,” he said. “We have to do a good job. I know last year may not have been how they wanted it, but it’s a new year and they’ll be ready to go, I’m sure, on opening day.”
Rotating safeties: Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said the Bears have a “pretty good idea of what direction we’re going to go” at safety, and Trestman said to expect a three-man rotation, assuming Chris Conte is cleared from his concussion, with Conte, Danny McCray and Ryan Mundy.
Although unorthodox, Conte may not be at 100 percent, having played in only one preseason game, and Trestman said this takes into account the special teams obligations for Mundy and McCray.
"I think that one of the key advantages is we’ve got special teams duties for Mundy and McCray. They are a big part of what we are special teams-wise," Trestman said. "And a big part of why they were brought in here was to not only have the opportunity to start but have the opportunity to play special teams. So by rotating guys in we think we can keep them fresh and create an advantage special teams-wise as well.”
Conte participated in the entire practice, but was technically listed as limited on the injury report. He still had to complete the concussion protocol, Trestman said.
As for the one game we got to see from Conte, or, one half in Seattle, Tucker saw enough to be impressed.
"He played fast and he was aggressive and we liked that," he said.
Special teams challenge: Joe DeCamillis' unit opens the 2014 season with a Bills group that has three lightning-fast return options in Leodis McKelvin, Marquise Goodwin and C.J. Spiller. Not exactly the ideal situation for a team that gave up a kickoff return touchdown and a 60-yard punt return in the preseason and has a rookie punter. So what can DeCamillis tweak, from what we saw in August, to be ready for Sunday?
"The tweaks are ensuring that you put the ball where you can cover it, first of all. Then, second of all, you just got to get as many people to the ballcarrier as you can, whether it’s McKelvin or Spiller or Goodwin," he said. "All of them are excellent returners, no question about it. You know, our guys have progressed throughout the preseason, there’s a lot of guys that got reps, so we should be ready to go on Sunday."
We'll get a glimpse at who the Bears' core special-teamers will be this season, as they have to replace Craig Steltz, Blake Costanzo and Eric Weems, among others. One player DeCamillis singled out who will be key to the coverage is cornerback Sherrick McManis.
"Explosiveness, he’s very explosive. He’s a great kid, he knows this is his ticket, this is how he’s going to get to the next step for him, and he’s been a joy to be around and I’m glad to have him, for sure," DeCamilis said.
Injury report: Tony Fiammetta (hamstring) and Brian de la Puente (knee) were limited in practice. David Fales (shoulder) has been ruled out for Sunday's game. For the Bills, wide receiver Sammy Watkins (ribs) was a full participant in practice.