Bears have injury issues at safety

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — The knee problems plaguing Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher are hardly the team’s only injury problem heading into the third preseason game against the New York Giants.

The team lost starting free safety Chris Conte to a dislocated right shoulder and backup free safety Brandon Hardin to a scary neck injury in Saturday’s game against Washington. It’s unlikely either will get playing time again until the regular season.

“I don’t plan on missing any regular-season games, but it’s just that preseason was going well and you want to keep on getting better and playing in the preseason,” Conte said. “But it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.”

Conte said his shoulder came out of place when he hit running back Evan Royster making a tackle, and it was put back into place by team medical officials. Conte and Hardin are both listed day to day, but Hardin’s situation appears to be much worse.

The rookie third-round pick from Oregon State is wearing a neck brace. He lay on the ground after tackling Redskins tight end Logan Paulsen, was taken off the field on a cart and then was taken by ambulance to a hospital. He was released a day later.

Hardin has been back with the team this week. He will be re-examined in a few weeks by doctors.

“He has a neck injury,” coach Lovie Smith said. “If you can find someone that can pinpoint exactly when he’ll be back, let me know — we’ll start using them.”

In the meantime, Craig Steltz has moved into the starting lineup at free safety alongside starting strong safety Major Wright for Friday’s game against the Giants.

“Next man up, and that’s what this league’s about, being resilient,” defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. “You work the next man. That’s why you have all the offseason work you do and the long training camps. You develop depth.”

Also moving up the depth chart is former practice squad player Anthony Walters, who will be with the second team after being the fifth safety a week ago. Walters, like Conte and Hardin, was a college cornerback who converted to safety with the Bears.

“I looked at myself as a cover safety until I got here and then I realized that there aren’t any cover positions on this team,” Walters said. “Everyone is going to hit. You better hit or you won’t be in there and that’s what I’ve learned.”

Safety is not the only position beset by injuries for the Bears this week. They’ll go into Friday’s game without punter Adam Podlesh, who hurt a hip flexor against Washington. For now, undrafted Boston College rookie Ryan Quigley is punting. The team sent Podlesh to see a specialist to determine if this is a long-term injury that would require them to carry an extra punter on the roster.

Starting nose tackle Stephen Paea remains out with an ankle injury, but will resume practicing Sunday.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

Photo caption: Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher (54) listens to coach during NFL football training camp at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., Sunday, July 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

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