When the Chicago Bears head to CenturyLink Field on Friday to take on the defending Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks, former starting free safety Chris Conte will make his 2014 season debut. Conte has spent much of the offseason rehabbing from shoulder surgery for an injury that nagged him all of last season. If Conte hopes to earn back his starting position he will need to make a great first impression this week.
Of course facing off against the defending champs in possibly the most hostile stadium in the NFL is not ideal for Conte, though if he is able to perform well in this environment, the Bears should feel good about where his head is at. Over the past three seasons, Conte has been a fixture in the Bears’ defensive backfield with 230 tackles, six interceptions and one forced fumble over that span. Conte’s career was derailed after last season when the Bears suffered through a campaign with some of the worst defensive stats in team history. Catching much of the brunt of the criticism, Conte was still able to finish second on the team with 90 combined tackles.
When your starting safety is third on your team in tackles, it is little wonder that his coverage skills suffered throughout the season. And while Conte still came away with three interceptions last season, it was obvious that his coverage skills were shaken. In 2013, the Bears’ defense finished dead last in the league in opponents rushing yards per attempt, giving up an average of 5.3 yards per attempt. After five yards the running back is already pushing through the linebackers, meaning the Bears’ safeties had to not only do their job but also do the job of the guys in front of them.
With a revamped defensive front ahead of them, whoever ends up starting at safety for the Bears in 2014 should have a much easier time defending against the pass. If Conte hopes to regain his starting role on this team, his journey will start on Friday night against the Seahawks. The Bears are expected to play their starters well into the second quarter, and while head coach Marc Trestman has yet to announce his starting tandem at safety, I’d expect Conte to come off the bench in the second pairing as Ryan Mundy and Danny McCray have started both of the previous preseason games.
If Conte hopes to get back into the starting lineup by the start of the regular season he will need to outplay every other player on the field; because as unfair as it may sound, he is fighting an uphill battle to overcome his horrendous 2013 campaign. Perhaps the biggest thing on Conte’s side right now is that no other player has stepped up and grabbed the starting spot so far through the preseason, so if Conte can kick his season off on a good note this week, he should certainly close in on gaining back his starting role.
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