Bears general manager Phil Emery said on Thursday that the team is expected to bring Conte to training camp and let the 2011 third-round draft choice compete for one of the two starting safety spots. Conte’s 2013 performance was symbolic of the overall defensive unit, which experienced a sharp decline from the previous year because of a combination of injuries and substandard play.
Conte finished the year ranked third on the defense with 95 tackles, and tied for second with three interceptions. However, he had well-documented on-field issues, including playing the wrong coverage on a late fourth quarter Randall Cobb touchdown in the Bears’ Week 17 loss to the Green Bay Packers that kept the team out of the playoffs.
“I think the No. 1 thing for Chris making improvements is Chris himself. I’m not counting on other guys getting better to help another player improve. It’s on them each individually, and obviously collectively. If we improve individually, we’ll improve as a group.
Chris knows he has to come in and compete to start. My vision for him is that he does compete and win it. I’d love to be talking to him about an extension. So let’s see what he does.”
While the Bears’ decision to keep Conte on the roster might upset a faction of the fan base, Conte, who turns 25 years old on February 23rd, has made 40 starts and is only scheduled to count $1,522,400 against the team’s salary cap in 2014 in the final year of his original rookie contract.
Conte doesn’t lack in the talent department. His confidence and instincts took a hit last season. Conte’s decline was expedited by the lack of stability from the Bears’ front-seven on defense. From a business standpoint, it makes sense to try and resuscitate Conte’s career and force the safety to earn a spot on the 53-man roster.
“We’ve texted significantly over the last month,” Bears head coach Marc Trestman said. “He’s challenged by moving forward. He knows he’s got to get better. He’s working in any way he can at this point in time, working out and training, to get himself started. Jon Hoke’s communicated with him even more than I am. I think that he knows he didn’t play as well as he could play, he’s moving forward, which is a good thing.
"Chris Conte’s under contract. At this point, he’ll be with us.”