According to ESPN’s Michael C. Wright, the Chicago Bears have reactivated safeties Chris Conte and Craig Steltz from the PUP list. Steltz is more of a special teams performer but Conte was last season’s starter and the trolling has begun.
Conte Has to Earn It
Although Coach Trestman supports Chris Conte, he has expressed that the safety also knows he has to get better to regain his position. This will add to the intense safety competition the Bears are experiencing and can only make each contender play that much harder to try to secure the starting role.
A lot of unenlightened fans have called for Conte’s head figuratively (some actually literally) on the basis that the safety tandem of Chris Conte and Major Wright did not shut down the running game and took poor angles.
More knowledgeable fans did not blame the cover safeties for the poor play of the defensive front seven. Conte, the single-high deep free safety in a Tampa 2 Defense was charged mostly with a deep half cover, hawking the inside release of the No. 1 receiver trying to “break the seam” on a 7 or “flag” route and cushioning against agile receivers who use the same inside release to turn their routes to the post. In the deep three or the Sky Zone also used by the Bears defense, Conte took the high middle of the field responsibility off the middle linebacker and played “over” all receivers as a last line of defense. A converted cornerback, Chris Conte easily understood his role and was a capable starter in his first two years with the team.
In man coverage, Conte had done his job well all year and simply bit prematurely on a play the Green Bay Packers had not only run three times in the final match, but were actually running again. Packers receiver Randall Cobb stated, “When I came off the ball, I had a hook route about 10 to 12 yards, and I saw the safety was flat-footed so I just threw my hand up and stayed on the move, and he was able to find me.”
Injuries Made Everyone Look Worse
Last season’s devastating injuries to the starting defense put Conte and Wright in bad light. The run-fills of the linebacker corps and especially Jonathan Bostic were terrible. The defensive line looked downright silly at time as running backs strolled by them dozens of times without having to even as much as change speeds. Perennial pro-bowler Lance Briggs missed more tackles than either safety in the same number of games despite leading the team in tackles until a shoulder injury sidelined him for much of the season. One of the best cornerbacks to ever play the game, Charles Tillman, had his “worst year” and suffered a couple of injuries out of his zone. Long-time players in any league know that when the guys next to you are not playing well you have to adjust your play to help them out, thus Chris Conte’s and Major Wright’s own assignments suffered as well.
As neither safety was a Troy Polomalu or Kam Chancellor, the steadily unhampered runs and having to fight off blockers who should have been busy blocking the box took their toll on both safeties. Fans still hounded them both and more so Conte, even though Wright is a strong safety (a player who is often more linebacker than safety). Still, Conte saved quite a few plays that could have easily been touchdowns. Not to mention the fact that he was obviously playing hurt which no one knew until his shoulder surgery was announced in the off-season.
By the Numbers
As you can see, Conte was called upon to make a tackle roughly as much last season as the two previous, forced his first fumble and doubled his career total interception tally. In the new Mel Tucker schemes, Chris Conte should perform well, at least as well as what has been shown by his competition and with hard-hitting box safeties like Ryan Mundy and Adrian Wilson next to him on most downs.