Chris Conte has shoulder surgery

CHICAGO -- Bears free safety Chris Conte underwent shoulder surgery on March 26 that will sideline him four to five months, the team announced on Thursday.

Conte injured the shoulder during the 2013 regular season but played through the discomfort and started all 16 games. He finished third on the team with 95 tackles and tied for second with three interceptions, but experienced his share of struggles, along with the rest of the Bears' defense.

Conte has appeared in 45 games with 40 starts in three seasons with the Bears after being selected in the third round of the 2011 draft out of California.

A source familiar with the situation called Conte's shoulder procedure "long overdue." He is expected to begin rehabbing sometime in the middle of April, the source said.

But Conte is likely to miss the club's entire offseason program and return to the field this summer sometime when the Bears report to training camp near the end of July.

The timing of the surgery is not ideal for Conte, who will have to compete for a starting job. The Bears signed safeties Ryan Mundy, M.D. Jennings and Danny McCra in free agency, and re-signed veteran free agent safety Craig Steltz.

"I know I'm going to have to compete for my position on this team," Conte told the team's official website. "I am prepared to do that and felt having this surgery was the best way to be 100 percent healthy and be the best player I can possibly be.

"Whenever you don't have a good season you do some soul-searching. You find the reasons why you love the game. Competition is a big part of why I love playing football. I knew they would be bringing in players to compete. It doesn't bother me one bit. It will only make me better."

Bears general manager Phil Emery expressed a desire to see Conte bounce back in 2014 when he discussed the free safety's future at the NFL combine in Indianapolis. Conte is entering the final year of his original rookie contract.

"I think the No. 1 thing for Chris making improvements is Chris himself," Emery said. "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."

The Bears are also expected to draft a safety in May. The team hosted Washington State strong safety Deone Bucannon on a pre-draft visit on Tuesday, and will no doubt investigate the other top safeties in the 2014 draft class in the coming weeks.