Chris Conte: Where did it go wrong?

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Dec 29, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears free safety Chris Conte (47) reacts with defensive tackle Stephen Paea (92) after intercepting a pass during the first quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 29, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears free safety Chris Conte (47) reacts with defensive tackle Stephen Paea (92) after intercepting a pass during the first quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

There is no doubt if Bear fans had to choose one player to symbolize the horrible defense in 2013, Chris Conte would be the overwhelming choice. Yes, Conte had a horrible season, only more amplified on the last play against Green Bay.  But is this blame and vilification of Conte justified?  His he no more or less to blame than the other players that didn’t execute?

After that Green Bay game, it bothered me how the fans tore into Conte.  How he was blamed for all the ills of the defense. How he single handily gave Green Bay the playoff spot.  That he should be cut and if he returns for the final year of his rookie contract it will spell doom for the Bears.  All this angst against one player got me thinking.  What went wrong with Conte? He had a solid 2012 campaign, and was it possible he all of sudden became a terrible player?  With that in mind, I began to do some research on Chris Conte, and what I discovered, was that no fault of his own, the prior Bears coaching staff may have set him up to fail.

What I am about to share with you is not an apology for Chris Conte, but an attempt to put his skills in perspective and  how the past Bears coaches may have ignored all the signs of his limitations and put him in a position where if things went wrong, he would fail. One note, this is not a condemnation of  Jon Hoke, the DB coach, I believe that Jon has worked wonders with Chris and has maximized all of his skills.

Let’s start at Cal where Conte played.  In his senior year, they switched him to safety, prior to that he played corner back for two seasons.  Not every player can make that switch, but it appeared Conte did well for the Cal defensive was rated a +1 and ranked  50th nationally in pass defense.  The only comment I have,  does one year at safety for a middle of the road defense warrant a 3rd selection? When most scouts had him pegged for the back half of the draft.  It was evident from the beginning he was inexperienced.

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Tags: Chicago Bears Chris Conte Marc Trestman

  • Erik Lambert

    Conte’s biggest problem last year wasn’t his ability it was his defensive line. They couldn’t stop the run and couldn’t rush the passer. Even the best safeties can disappear and struggle when that happens.

    • John Vassar

      Erik, I was going to get into that but it was long winded as it was. Thanks

  • Aldo Gandia

    Nice piece. Good research. Jerry Angelo over-reached for Conte. No doubt. Some scouts didn’t even have Conte being drafted. They saw him as a free-agent signee. I remember the reliable Pro Football Weekly Draft Guide didn’t even list Conte. Nonetheless, Conte showed flashes of being a competent safety once he started playing the position: he was aggressive, able to guard TEs and threw himself around with wild abandon (ask Urlacher).

    Then, last year, the lack of a pass rush exposed his weaknesses. Once the mistakes piled up his confidence was shot and he played worse than he really is. Not helping, was Major Wright’s performance, who to my eye, played worse than Conte, and Pro Football Focus’ analytics back me up. Beyond, Wright’s poor play, we learn now that he was a poor communicator and one has to wonder if the botched Packer TD at the end of the regular season may have had something to do with Wright’s poor communication skills.

    I’m hopeful that Conte will bounce back, but clearly the Bears need to draft a safety in the first or second round. Safety play has become too vital. Additionally, former Dolphins safety Chris Clemons is still available and with each passing day his price has to be dropping. He would be a great interim player if the Bears wanted to delay drafting a safety until 2015.

    • John Vassar

      Aldo, thank you for your words. I agree with every thing you said. I could have written a lot more on the lack of confidence and expound on what Erik said about the defensive line not helping. I am a big fan of Clemons and am just waiting for Emery to snag him. Otherwise, they will draft a S, even if Conte bounces back they need too anyway.

  • Michael Praser

    I still like Conte. He had such promise in 2012. I think he just needs to have better players in front of him. And next to him.

  • ChitwoodIN

    I’ve had my own choice words regarding Conte. However, to be fair, it wasn’t all on him. When you look at his tackles last year A. It’s not his strong point and B. Your safety shouldn’t be up near 150 tackles on the year…..The front line had A LOT to do with his performance. When the first play from scrimmage results in a RB dancing around in the back end of your D, it makes for a long game. That being said, I’m willing to forgive and give him a 2nd chance. Wright, on the other hand……uhhhhg. I agree he was a far worse tackler and couldn’t pick an angle in a line up of protractors.

  • Mike

    Conte definitely had his share of problems and then some last season, but I am not willing to completely write him off just yet. I believe the front 7 played a huge role in what became a season he (and all the fans) would like to forget sooner rather than later. I’d like to see him have to compete for the job in camp and then see what he can do with a healthy group in front of him that isn’t giving QB’s 7 seconds to pick their targets or RB’s a free pass into the defensive backfield. I imagine he will look much better under those circumstances.

    I know everybody says that the Bears need to draft a safety, but if you assume that Conte ’14 is going to be better than Conte ’13 and Mundy is already an upgrade over Wright, then which one do you focus on replacing?

    I think Conte can still get it done; he has all the athletic tools and he just needs to find his mo-jo again and get a solid effort from the guys in front of him.