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Steltz will be tested in first NFL start
By Bob LeGere | Daily Herald Columnist

Craig Steltz

 

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Published: 12/28/2008 12:04 AM

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Even though safety Craig Steltz wasn't drafted until the fourth round (120th overall) in April, the Bears touted him as someone who had the ability to become a starter in the future.

The future is now.

Steltz gets his first start today because Mike Brown (calf) is on injured reserve, and the rookie will be tested by a multi-faceted offense that is No. 3 in the NFL in total yards. The Texans have the league's most productive receiver, Andre Johnson, and a rookie- of-the-year candidate in running back Steve Slaton. Their offense also features two of the more successful area players in the NFL - wide receiver Kevin Walter (Vernon Hills, Libertyville High School) and tight end Owen Daniels (Naperville Central).

Steltz, an All-American from LSU, didn't even dress for the first five games this season, but he's sixth in special-teams tackles with 13 and contributed an interception and 44-yard return to help the Bears overcome a 23-10 deficit in a come-from-behind victory over the Lions in Detroit on Nov. 2.

Steltz was also playing in place of an injured Brown in that game at Ford Field, and the experience should help.

"Just knowing you can go out there and make plays when it's crunch time, and the defense needs to get a turnover or get the ball back to the offense, you want to be able to go out there and get that interception or get that fumble recovery and put the ball back in the offense's hands," Steltz said. "You practice like you're a starter, and if you do get an opportunity to go out there, you want to step out and make some plays."

Two weeks before that, Steltz blocked a Chris Kluwe punt against the Vikings that Garrett Wolfe returned for a touchdowns in a 48-41 victory. Those kinds of plays are all coach Lovie Smith expects from Steltz against the Texans.

"He's played well on special teams, and when we've given him an opportunity to play on regular downs, he's come through," Smith said. "So we feel comfortable with him if he's in that position. We've seen him in this situation before. We get a chance to work with him every day, he's sharp, he knows the system, he's a good player."

The Bears hope Steltz is as good today as they thought he'd be on draft day.