Chris Conte: Safety in Numbers

Conte's addition means the Bucs are playing it safe at safety.

Conte’s addition means the Bucs are playing it safe at safety.

The Bucs recently inked Conte, a former Cal Golden Bear and third round pick of the Bears in 2011. If you Google his name you’ll find a lot of unflattering comments concerning his allegedly poor play in Chicago. Are those comments valid? Well, first you must consider that the disparaging remarks were made by Bears fans, a group notorious for inbreeding. That said, Conte has certainly not justified his 3rd-round pedigree, and film of the guy reveals that he has struggled mightily at times versus both the pass and the run. But here’s the deal: if you’ve studied Tampa2 defenses for any amount of time you know that young DBs struggle to find their feet within it. Even Buc greats like Kelly and Lynch and Barber experienced considerable growing pains as they adjusted to their responsibilities within the scheme. Simply put, it takes time to be a consistently good DB in the Tampa 2.

So the question is: did the Bucs land a budding John Lynch in Conte…or another Sabby Piscitelli? My take? Neither. What they snared is a young DB whose understanding of the scheme must be improved and whose confidence must be patched up a bit if he is to blossom. The good news? He’s entering an ideal situation for that to happen. First, because he’ll be playing within a familiar defensive scheme. And second, because the likely starters for 2015 will be Major Wright at SS and up-and-comer Bradley McDougald at FS (with old-school hammer Dashon Goldson likely to be traded away, gritty holdover Keith Tandy likely sticking again as a ST contributor and backup and a draft pick likely to be used on a young buck to groom). Point is, Conte will likely be used part-time rather than as a full-time starter, allowing him to refine his skills. He is, though, a former starter, so it’s not like he can’t answer the bell if a front-line guy goes down. For that matter, don’t put it past him to push for the starting FS job in camp.

As for ability, on paper Conte is what today’s teams covet in a safety. Rule changes have softened up contact overall (and nauseated this writer to the point of projectile vomiting), meaning safety play nowadays is less about cracking heads and more about cover skills and range. And Conte has nice raw ability in that regard, including good straight-line speed and better-than-advertised athleticism. He’s also only 26 years old, and his long arms and lanky (6-2, 200) frame make him a good matchup against the many big-arse WRs that now litter the NFL landscape. And though the game is decidedly less physical, it’s still a violent sport and your safeties still must be violent. He might not be a feared bartender biter, but Conte packs a decent wallop in run support and can put the flinch is WRs over the middle. If I have a concern it’s that his instincts seem suspect at times, and instincts are tough if impossible to refine.

So…can he be a notable contributor? Yes, he can. It’s worth noting that current Buc Major Wright also struggled on and off in that same Chicago defense and had the same inbred Chicago crowd bash his game only to look damn good in the same scheme in Tampa last season. While Wright is a better player, Conte offers solid depth and redundancy.

Reminds me of: Roman Harper, Saints

The verdict: Conte is a good scheme fit and a better-than-average addition who will contribute to the S rotation and on Special Teams. Considering age, skill set and fit, I give this one a 7 out of 10 on the Scrappy Scale.

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