Chris Conte: Where did it go wrong?

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Nov 24, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Rams tight end Jared Cook (89) is tackled by Chicago Bears free safety Chris Conte (47) during the second half at the Edward Jones Dome. St. Louis defeated Chicago 42-21. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Next the combine.  Now this gets interesting. If you took Conte’s performance at the combine and compared it to this years two top safeties, Dix and Pryor, the results are quite shocking.  Conte was faster than both in the 40, jumped higher than both in the vertical leap,  out leapt both considerably in the broad jump and was stronger than Dix and equal to Pryor in the bench press.  Another thing, Conte is a big guy, 6’2 226, bigger than both of these two prospects. Based on Conte’s athleticism he would be rated a first rounder in 2014.  This is where I believe the Bears got blinded and the first step in building too high of an expectation.

Next were the scouting reports. I am not going to go through line item by line item, but there was a common thread.  Conte had technique trouble in tackling, he came in too high. Almost every scout said, potentially excellent special team player and back up FS. One suggested with time he could make a good rotational FS and might start. He did get above average coverage remarks but tackling was an issue.  It appears the Bears ignored the scouts.

The Bears drafted Conte in the third round and almost immediately was thrown into the fray.  He rotated into the FS role as a rookie and then started in 2012.  In 2011, with 387 snaps he ranked 19th in coverage. 2012 with 506 snaps, he dropped to 32nd. I like to note his rating score was up in 2012, just more FS exceed him, so not really a performance drop.  Then in 2013, 567 snaps and ranked 26th.   This time his performance rating dropped but so did other FS. The takeaway is when it comes to coverage Conte does a decent job.  Where the stats are brutal is on tackling efficiency. I won’t review them but they are bad, mostly on run defense.  The scouts warned about this issue and it has come to haunt the Bears.

So why did they let Conte start? Why not go find a FS in the UFA or draft another one?  Historically, the Bears rarely spend money on safeties nor draft them.  There has only been two safeties that were outstanding. Mike Brown and Mark Carrier.  Carrier being the best of all of them.  Some will say Fencik, but he played mostly SS until later in his career when he moved to FS.  Here is the reason, Lovie didn’t cater to safeties. In  the Tampa 2, the key to success is the front seven doing a great job. Good pass rush, fast linebackers covering underneath, and solid corners.  This takes the pressure off the safeties and hides any weaknesses they may have.  In 2013, we witnessed when those front seven don’t execute. You basically hang your safeties out to dry.

What does this all mean? Trestman said yesterday he vowed to give Conte a chance to start and believes in him. So do I.  What I see is a good ball player that may have reached his ceiling that was asked by an over confident coaching staff to play beyond his capabilities.  In looking at all this, it’s not fair to blame Chris Conte for last season, I will submit nothing went wrong with him, but simply he was put in a position to fail. Lastly, we as fans need to reflect some compassion to a man that has given his all with what he has to give.  Chris Conte has said he wants to become better, and I believe he will do all he can.  The first step is for us fans to take the boulder off his back and give him a second chance. Doesn’t he deserve it?