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Free-agent safety Bullocks fwill challenge Steltz for starting job
By Bob LeGere | Daily Herald Staff

Josh Bullocks


Bears wide receiver Rashied Davis misplays a pass which lead to a Saints interception by Josh Bullocks during Thursday's game at Soldier Field in Chicago. Game was December 11, 2008


Daily Herald file photo

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Published: 3/11/2009 4:35 PM | Updated: 3/11/2009 7:44 PM

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Last month at the NFL's annual Scouting Combine, general manager Jerry Angelo seemed willing to bet on Craig Steltz as the team's de facto starter at free safety.

But on Wednesday the Bears hedged that bet by signing unrestricted free agent Josh Bullocks to a one-year deal that includes a guaranteed $525,000 signing bonus.

"We have Steltz, so to say (free safety) is a need is premature," Angelo said three weeks ago. "We like Craig. I thought he did a nice job when he did play last year. He did a very good job on special teams. Players that show (well) on special teams, when their number's called, usually play well (on defense), too."

Bullocks, a second-round pick of the Saints (40th overall) in 2005 out of Nebraska, started 43 games in his first three seasons in New Orleans but just six last season, when he had a career-low 41 tackles after averaging 72 in his first three years. The 6-foot-1, 207-pounder has above-average speed, but is not considered a ball hawk, as evidenced by his 6 career interceptions.

Bullock, who just turned 26 last month and has also played special teams, is regarded as an adequate starter by NFL personnel evaluators.

Steltz, a fourth-round pick out of LSU Last year, was inactive for the first five games but played in the last 11. He intercepted a pass at the goalline in the fourth quarter against the Lions on Nov. 2 and returned it 44 yards to help the Bears overcome a 23-13 halftime deficit in a 27-23 victory.

Steltz came into the Lions game after Mike Brown suffered a calf injury late in the first half. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Steltz blocked a punt against the Vikings on Oct. 19 that was returned 17 yards for a touchdown by Garrett Wolfe, and he was sixth on the team with 13 special-teams tackles.

In other Bears news Wednesday, the team voluntarily trimmed its already thin offensive line by releasing seven-year veteran backup guard Terrence Metcalf.

Metcalf played in six games as a reserve in 2008 before being suspended for four games by the NFL for violating of the league's substance-abuse policy. The 6-foot-4, 310-pound Metcalf was a third-round draft pick (93rd overall) out of Mississippi in 2002. He appeared in 84 games, including 25 starts in seven seasons with the Bears.

With the expected retirement of right tackle John Tait, and with left tackle John St. Clair still on the market as an unrestricted free agent, the Bears have just three offensive linemen who started for them last season: center Olin Kreutz and guards Roberto Garza and Josh Beekman. They have also added unrestricted free agent Frank Omiyale, who started one game last year for the Panthers. They also hope to re-sign St. Clair.