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updated: 8/15/2014 5:49 AM

Rozner: For Bears' Conte, there's safety at home

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When Chris Conte slipped on a wet practice field Tuesday and had to watch as his receiver scored a touchdown, Bears fans in Bourbonnais all seemed to mutter the same two words: Randall Cobb.

For most, that is the lasting image of Conte from 2013, one which will hang around his neck as long as he's a member of the Bears, risking life and limb at the pursuit of interceptions.

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But there is another. It is that of Conte sitting quietly at his locker after a game midway through last season, a distant look on his face and consternation in his voice.

He talked of losing confidence in the run game, of thinking too much instead of reacting, of guessing and getting gashed while flat-footed and on an island.

Conte knew he was better than that, knew he could make the plays, knowing he had made them before.

Suddenly, he could not, and as the defensive line got progressively worse, so did the Bears' safeties.

Then came the Packers debacle, off-season shoulder surgery and the acquisition of seemingly a dozen safeties. Hardly anyone outside the organization thought Chris Conte would be where he was Thursday night.

He was at Soldier Field, a member of the Bears and still favored by a coaching staff that will probably have him back in the starting lineup if he can prove he's entirely healthy by the opener against Buffalo on Sept. 7.

Conte was not dressed Thursday night when the Bears defeated Jacksonville 20-19, having only returned to practice Sunday. He watched the game with his teammates on the sideline, never straying far from fellow safety Craig Steltz, also on the mend after off-season groin surgery.

The fact that he was in this building on this night was nonetheless a comeback for Conte, and while the blown coverage against the Packers remains on the minds of fans, Conte is trying to forget everything about 2013.

"I'm not even thinking about last season," Conte said. "I'm thinking about this year. So I don't even know what happened last season.

"(While rehabbing) I had a lot of time to do a lot of soul searching. I had a lot of time focusing on myself physically and mentally. It was a good time for me to get better in a lot of different areas. Hopefully, I'm a better person and a better football player."

It's easy to forget that Conte was already a decent football player, giving the Bears a hint of stability at a position that has seen mostly turmoil and turnover for the last decade.

It's easy to forget that the defensive problems up front were more responsible for how bad the safeties looked last season than the safeties themselves.

And it's easy to forget that the reason Conte looked so out of position on so many plays in last season's finale was because he was chasing the action, trying to cover for others who had missed their assignments.

Conte was hardly alone in the blame for that loss, playing a large role in the biggest play of the game, but playing only a small role in a huge failure up until that heartbreaking touchdown.

Still, he took the brunt of the criticism from fans and media, and few among those groups thought he would be back in 2014.

"I've got a list," Conte said. "There's a lot of things I want to do and a lot of people I want to prove wrong. There's a lot of goals I have, a lot of things I'm looking forward to, but I'm taking it one day at a time."

Conte has been the Bears' starting free safety for most of the last three seasons, usually paired with Major Wright, who was allowed to walk and currently resides in Tampa with Lovie Smith.

This week in practice, Conte teamed up frequently with veteran Pro Bowler Adrian Wilson, a tandem that makes a lot of sense if both are of sound mind and body.

Danny McCray and Ryan Mundy started last Friday against Philadelphia and again Thursday against the Jaguars, and the Bears also have fourth-round draft choice Brock Vereen and former Packer M.D. Jennings.

"I've got a lot of confidence in the guys that I'm out there with," Conte said of returning to action. "It's fun to go out there and play with a guy (Wilson) that's been to Pro Bowls.

"Really, it just feels good to be back playing football."

In terms of Conte's comeback, that might be the most impressive part of all.

brozner@dailyherald.com

•Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM.

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