While Bears fans had been harping on Conte throughout the season, the missed call on 4th and 10 that knocked the team out of the playoffs sent them into a frenzy. As a result, Conte had shut down his Twitter account due to death threats.
That animosity has not died down, as Conte was vilified during training camp after he slipped on the turf and allowed a completion. Fans immediately began to boo and scream for his head, which prompted Charles Tillman to turn to the crowd and yell, “Shut up!”
Conte suffered a concussion in the third preseason game but was medically cleared today to participate in Sunday’s contest against the Buffalo Bills, although he’s not expecting a warm welcome from those in attendance at Soldier Field.
“I don’t plan on having a lot of support, that’s for sure,” Conte said today. “But I’m going to go out there and play football. That’s what my job is and that’s what I’m going to go do.”
Conte had shoulder surgery in March and missed the team’s offseason activities and the first two weeks of training camp. He played briefly during the third preseason contest before suffering the concussion. Yet during those snaps, he looked like the Conte of old, flying around the field and hitting people with purpose.
“It felt really good to be back out there and playing fast,” Conte said. “I can’t wait to be out there again and hopefully get the opportunity to make some plays.”
One play Conte made against Seattle was a crushing blow in the end zone that knocked loose a sure touchdown.
“That’s why you play football,” said Conte. “You want to go out there and hit people and make plays, so it definitely felt good.”
The plan is to ease Conte into the mix by rotating the safeties on Sunday. Having done so little work the past three month, conditioning could be an issue, so the coaching staff will be monitoring his reps.
"That’s why we’re gonna rotate safeties," coach Marc Trestman said. "We’ll see where he is as the game moves along. We feel good about the fact we’ve got guys we can move in there. That’s kind of the approach that we’re gonna take. It would be with anybody who is coming off this type of situation, who hadn’t had a lot of training camp."
That said, if Conte comes out and plays like he did as a rookie, and shows no signs of slowing down, it’s going to be hard to keep him off the field. Like it or not, Conte is the best free safety on the roster and the Bears want him to have a bounce-back year. Danny McCray is not the answer, so if Conte can hack it, he’ll see the majority of reps alongside Ryan Mundy.
And if he makes a few plays that help the Bears pick up the victory, he’ll quiet the lunatic fringe calling for his head.
"Chris has played a lot of football. He’s a professional," said Trestman. "He made a commitment to come back and be at his best. I think he’s done everything he can to do that, and he’s gonna get an opportunity to play this week."
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.