More than a few groans were probably heard across the city when the Chicago Bears hinted at starting Chris Conte at safety. Here is why they will.
Brock Vereen and Danny McCray failed to make impact
The simplest explanation is nobody else on the depth chart did enough to warrant taking the job away from him. Danny McCray started most of the preseason at the free safety slot. Coaches really liked him and his athletic skill, which he has showcased the past few years as a special teams ace. However, it hasn’t shown up on defense. In three preseason games McCray made seven tackles and failed to record an interception or even a pass defense.
The same goes for Brock Vereen. A rookie 4th round pick out of Minnesota, he is long in the athletic department but lacks the instincts in coverage required at the free position. He made 10 tackles but like McCray was blanked in interceptions. Conte, who spent the entire off-season and half the preseason rehabbing from shoulder surgery, appeared for a short time in week three against Seattle and managed to break up a touchdown pass.
Conte has the most NFL experience and is still young
Another thing to remember is that Chris Conte is arguably the most physically gifted safety on the roster. He’s 6’2″ with corner speed and is coming off a career year in 2013 where he made 90 tackles, snagged three interceptions and forced a fumble. Even more important is he’s only 25-years old. He’s still quite young for an NFL player and has room to grow yet he’s the most experienced starter of the group the Bears have.
On top of that, things should be much better up front. Part of the reason Conte struggled at times last season was because of how terrible Chicago was in their front seven, largely due to injuries. Their inability to stop the run or have a pass rush forced Conte to cheat from his assignments at times to try to help. It didn’t always work. Both of those problems should be less acute in 2014, which will decrease the pressure on him.
In the end the short explanation for why the Chicago Bears will start Chris Conte is simple. For better or worse, he’s still the best they have.
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