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Bears’ Chris Conte out to silence critics vs. Seahawks

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Updated: September 22, 2014 12:33PM



Safety Chris Conte just wants to read and react, cover and tackle. His plan is to zone in on plays and zone out last season’s woes.

“It was anything you can imagine,” Conte said of the threats he received on social media. “It’s unfortunate that my family and everybody had to see that stuff. It’s just the way the world is.”

Conte’s first chance to shut that world up comes Friday against the Seattle Seahawks. It’ll be Conte’s first game since he had surgery on his right shoulder in March after his difficult 2013 season, which concluded with his blown coverage against the Green Bay Packers in Week 17.

It’s unclear how much Conte will play and whom he’ll play with at safety, but every snap he takes comes with the full support of his teammates and coaches.

There’s no denying Conte struggled in 2013, but his teammates agree the vicious criticism was unfair. Cornerback Charles Tillman shouldn’t have to tell fans at training camp to pipe down when they chide Conte after he trips on a wet field.

“People like to blame, so they blame,” secondary coach Jon Hoke said. “I’ll just leave it at that.”

Seemingly forgotten is that Conte has started 40 games for the Bears in three seasons, making 230 tackles and six interceptions.

He wasn’t helped by defensive end Julius Peppers’ inability to tackle or contain quarterback Aaron Rodgers on the Packers’ game-winning play in Week 17. Also, it was the responsibility of the linebackers to relay call changes. And lost in the hubbub was Conte’s first-quarter interception in the end zone that prevented the Packers from scoring on their first drive.

“This is my motto since this is a business about winning: They love you, they hate you and then they love you again,” defensive back Kelvin Hayden said. “Chris has been a productive player. Guys know what he’s capable of. It’s just a point of going out there and being Chris.”

Cornerback Tim Jennings said he likes “everything [Conte] brings to the defense.”

“I like his athletic ability,” Jennings said. “Chris can get from hash to hash. He knows what he’s supposed to do. [He’s a] physical guy [who] makes tackles in the open field. He’s just raw talent. I like what he brings.”

Conte wasn’t a concern coming into the 2013 season. It was the exact opposite. The 2011 third-round pick was considered a possible long-term solution at safety — a position of incessant change for the Bears — after 87 tackles, two interceptions and five pass breakups in 2012.

There was even a highlight in the Bears’ media notes that pointed out how low opposing quarterbacks’ passer ratings were with Conte and Major Wright as the starting safeties.

General manager Phil Emery has continued to express faith in him, but getting back to that level is all on Conte.

“He has to; he’s got to have it.” Hoke said. “We can coach him, and we can be positive with him, but he’s got to go out there. . . . He’s in charge of himself. He’s a grown man. He knows what the expectations of him are, so that’s what he’ll do.”

Conte said he has learned to block out criticism. But he knows his road to redemption will be covered closely. He’s entering a wide-open safety competition.

“I just want to play good football, do my job, be where I’m supposed to be and show the coaches I belong on the team,” Conte said. “I’m excited and ready to go.”

Email: ajahns@suntimes.com

Twitter: @adamjahns



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