LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — Third-round draft pick Chris Conte has given the Chicago Bears some much-needed stability in the secondary.
The rookie free safety is about to get his biggest test of the season when the Bears play at Philadelphia on Monday night.
"I think they drafted me in the third round for a reason, and obviously that was to come in and play," a confident Conte said Tuesday. "I'm going to continue to do that."
The Bears turned to Conte when former safety Chris Harris fell out of favor in a loss to the Detroit Lions. The defense had allowed 12 passes and four runs of 25 yards or longer through five games. Against Minnesota and Tampa Bay, they gave up one pass and no runs of 25 yards or longer with Conte as the last line of defense.
"Chris Conte, we moved him into the starting lineup a couple weeks ago, have been very pleased with what we've gotten from him as a tackler, just a guy in the middle of the field with a lot of range," coach Lovie Smith said. "We drafted him to someday be our safety. That time is now."
Conte played only one season of safety at California after starting as a cornerback, but his range and long arms have earned him instant accolades as well as the nickname "Bird Man" from nose tackle Anthony Adams.
The Bears have been deploying their free safety at a deeper spot in the secondary, which has helped.
"I think we just aligned deeper, and it's not that we're getting a lot of depth, we're just getting our depth initially," Conte said. "And then we've been able to play with depth so we can break downhill instead of being in a rush to backpedal."
Conte made his first interception against Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman in the Bears' final game before their bye week last weekend. He had the benefit of tapping into Harris' knowledge of the defense. But Harris was cut and signed on with Detroit.