BOURBONNAIS — Rookie safety Deon Bush did exactly what his coaches want. He delivered a hard blow to the back of wide receiver Cameron Meredith, jarring a ball loose and turning a potential big gain over the middle into nothing.
And that was without pads on.
The defensive sideline jumped for joy. Second-year safety Harold Jones-Quartey, mimicking an official, feverishly waved his arms to indicate an incomplete pass.
“[Our coaches] like tough guys,” Jones-Quartey said. “All of our safeties have toughness in them.”
Celebrations aside, Jones-Quartey needs to hold off Bush, the Bears’ hard-hitting fourth-round selection from Miami. An undrafted waiver-wire pickup last season, Jones-Quartey has worked with the first-team defense since the offseason program.
It’s an intriguing competition that highlights the Bears’ objective of getting younger. They believe in Jones-Quartey and Bush enough that they said goodbye to veteran Omar Bolden before training camp opened at Olivet Nazarene University.
Safety has been a long-standing problem for the Bears since the game-changing, big-play days of Mike Brown. Over the last 10 seasons, the Bears have featured nine different starting combinations at safety in their regular-season openers.
Of course, it will be different this year, too. Adrian Amos, a fifth-round pick in 2015, is the only returning starter after Antrel Rolle was released.
“I want this job more than I want anything,” Jones-Quartey said. “It shows that the coaches have a lot of faith in me and a lot of trust. They feel comfortable with me being out there with the [first team]. I’ve just got to prove them right. I’ve got to prove them right every day.”
Amos did that last season as a rookie, but Jones-Quartey delivered the best game of any defensive back in 2015. In the Bears’ Week 16 victory against the Buccaneers, he intercepted a pass, broke up three others and forced a fumble.
“The Tampa Bay game was definitely huge,” he said.
It was the result of a season’s worth of preparation. Jones-Quartey was thrust into four starts because of injuries, but he didn’t have an offseason program, training camp or preseason to learn the Bears’ defense.
After being waived by the Cardinals, Jones-Quartey was added by the Bears a week before their season opener against the Packers.
“I came in, and I was starting Week 4,” Jones-Quartey said. “It’s a lot different [this year].”
The differences start with having more time with secondary coach Ed Donatell, who has given Jones-Quartey film of three-time Pro Bowl safety Donte Whitner to study.
Donatell coached Whitner with the 49ers and has connected Jones-Quartey with him over the phone.
“[Donatell] thinks I play like Donte Whitner,” Jones-Quartey said.
Jones-Quartey also has a chance to develop chemistry with Amos. He said he has started to work primarily at strong safety in camp, with Amos at free safety. The Bears will move their safeties around and disguise coverages, but Amos said the Bears essentially kept their safeties on one side, left or right, last season.
“[The] chemistry is amazing,” Jones-Quartey said. “Now, we don’t only know what we’re doing; we know what everybody else is doing. We know what the D-linemen are doing. We can communicate, and now we can anticipate plays and just talk to each other. It’s a big difference from Year 1 to Year 2.”
Time will tell if it clicks.
But Jones-Quartey, who played at Division II Findlay (Ohio), said he thrives in these situations. He wasn’t bothered by the Bears’ selection of Bush or safety DeAndre Houston-Carson in the sixth round.
“I’ve never been afraid of competition,” he said. “I don’t care if it was a first-round pick. . . . We could get a second-round pick next year. Who cares? I don’t. I’m going to compete.”
The Bears have featured nine different starting safety combinations in Week 1 of the past 10 seasons. Here’s a look back:
2015: Adrian Amos, Antrel Rolle
2014: Chris Conte, Ryan Mundy
2013: Chris Conte, Major Wright
2012: Chris Conte, Major Wright
2011: Major Wright, Chris Harris
2010: Chris Harris, Danieal Manning
2009: Kevin Payne, Al Afalava
2008: Kevin Payne, Brandon McGowan
2007: Adam Archuleta, Mike Brown
2006: Chris Harris, Mike Brown