Mixed reviews on Conte, but Bears see strong upside
By Brad Biggs, Tribune reporter 6:02 p.m. CDT, May 7, 2011
Clancy Pendergast, in his third day on the job as the California defensive coordinator last offseason, was walking through the weight room when he saw a player he didn't recognize.
It was Chris Conte, the Bears' third-round pick, who was a role player entering his senior year.
"I said, 'Who is that guy?'" Pendergast recalled. "They told me he had played corner most of his career but hadn't played too much.
"He looked like a prototypical NFL safety to me."
Pendergast moved to the college ranks after 15 seasons in the NFL where he was a defensive coordinator and worked with Pro Bowl safeties Adrian Wilson, Antrel Rolle, Darren Woodson and Roy Williams. Conte made the position change and took to his coaching quickly. The transition went smoothly as he was named to the All-Pac 10 first team.
"There's not a guy in the room I coached harder than Chris," Pendergast said. "And that's because of the potential I saw in him."
There was a wide range of opinions about 6-foot-2, 197-pound Conte on draft weekend. One scouting director in another city said he was the top safety on his team's board. A veteran scout for another club mocked the selection, the seventh safety the Bears have drafted in seven years. The disparity is likely due to the fact Conte was one-year starter at safety and a relative unknown. A mixup that prevented him from playing in a college All-Star game kept him under the radar for West Coast scout Marty Barrett.
The Bears view Conte as a future starter and perhaps more importantly they consider him a free safety. It's the position where they have been trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. While Conte's arrival probably doesn't impact veteran Chris Harris immediately — he's signed through 2011 — it might affect his bid for a contract extension and it could spell the end of the line for Danieal Manning, who will be a free agent of some type when the lockout is resolved.
There is upside to Conte because he's still developing at the position. He's a strong open-field tackler and has fluid hips, good range and ball skills.
"I can come in and compete right away and I am only going to get better," he said. "At worst, I am going to play every special teams (phase). I am going to come in the first day and be able to contribute in some way and that's all I want to do."
Conte comes from a family accustomed to playing roles. His grandfather Richard Conte had a career spanning four decades in show business. He starred in "Godfather" as Don Barzini after being considered for the title role that went to Marlon Brando. He had a prominent role in "Call Northside 777," the 1948 film starring James Stewart that was the first Hollywood picture shot on location in Chicago. He was in the original "Ocean's Eleven" and was a close friend of Frank Sinatra.
"I guess I'm not cute enough for the business," Conte joked. "It never interested me. My dad (Mark) is a film editor and I'd go into his work to see him in a dark room on the computer all day. I was like, 'Why would you want to do this?' I want to be outside, being physical, competing."
His older brother Kevin briefly considered a writing career, and Mark never pushed his sons to follow his path.
"He has been on this single track since he was 5 years old," Mark Conte said. "I have to hand it to him."
Now, Conte needs to succeed where picks before him like Al Afalava, Craig Steltz, Kevin Payne and others have come up short. Ultimately, the Bears could look to pair him with Major Wright, who played both safety positions as a rookie third-round pick last season.
"Hopefully I will be here for a long time and we won't be drafting any more safeties," Conte said.
If it took a third round pick to finnaly get rid of Danielle Manning then I'm totally on board.
I hope some other team overrates him like the Bears did.
Pendergast moved to the college ranks after 15 seasons in the NFL where he was a defensive coordinator and worked with Pro Bowl safeties Adrian Wilson, Antrel Rolle, Darren Woodson and Roy Williams. Conte made the position change and took to his coaching quickly. The transition went smoothly as he was named to the All-Pac 10 first team. "There's not a guy in the room I coached harder than Chris," Pendergast said. "And that's because of the potential I saw in him."
had forgotten bout pendergrass's connection with all those safeties.. a really good point, and maybe is part 'blowing smoke" for one of his players now, its a really good sign a DC that has worked with many probowl safeties saw those traits in Conte IMO
BOOOOO, the grandson of Don Barzini, the villian of "The Godfather". Well at least he got what was coming to him when Al Neri popped his evil ass on those steps the day Michael "settled the score", LOL.
I'm glad this guy is writing about what I've been saying all along. We've drafted a few (?) safties over the past few years, that's true, but all of them have been far more the SS type than FS types. Even Steltz who's more the size of a FS but doesn't have the range of a true FS.
We've always been critical of our safties open field tackling abilites around here, and Mannings in particular until last year. One thing that jumped out at me from Conte's video was that he is a great open field tackler. He gets down low and he wraps up very well. If he's got good instincts and shows that he can provide over the top coverage I think we may well have the guy we've been missing back there for so many years. I'm excited to see what he can do.
If Conte can win the FS job that leaves us with Harris to play SS and Major Wright as a rotational player at both spots until Harris either hangs it up or is let go. I'm hoping that Harris isn't gonna be let go very soon and that they'll extend him. If Conte does step to the plate we'll have a very good safety trio.
Think esp on the bears version of the tampa-2, the safeties need to be able to play BOTH SS and FS, you saw that alot in 2010, when some games instead of manning, they would bring chris harris down into box as a SS and move manning back to FS..to confuse looks and get the QB thinking different.That is why exited at the prospect of Wright/conte- in that both can play F, but both also have size and known for hitting/tackling- so can really have a flexibity back there, we have been missing since brown's glory day's, and allow the "D" alot more secondary looks and blitzes.
Originally Posted by soulman
If that is the case then we've certainly been going about getting safeties the wrong way over the years with finding FS's with comparable skill sets. Glad we are finally moving to rectify the situation.
Originally Posted by dabears54
No so sure about that- think more the players didn't work out like they expected as hybrid's.. Manning has the all the physical skills you can ask for in a FS/SS to play both, just more IMo mental with some bad tackling that has improved over the years. Both Afalava and payne had coverage skills coming out of college but with rep's for hitting, so had hoped could play both, but neither panned out as expected. Mike brown was great at it- and chris harris has his days, but IMO his coverage/speed skills have slipped so more suited for SS now, but has been a decent hybrid
Originally Posted by short faced bear
Still dont get why we got rid of afalava in one season and stuck with steltz.