Conte knows it won't be easy with Bears fans
Aside from teammates and the coaching staff, Bears free safety Chris Conte doesn't expect to have many people rooting for him in Sunday's season opener, even though the game is at Soldier Field.
As the last line of defense on last year's last-in-the-league defense, Conte incurred more than his share of wrath from fans frustrated with a group that allowed more points than any Bears team in franchise history.
"I don't plan on having a lot of support, that's for sure," Conte said softly. "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 started 40 games in his first three years after being drafted out of Cal in the third round in 2011, including all but one in the previous two years. He might not be in the starting lineup Sunday, but the plan is to rotate him, Ryan Mundy and Danny McCray with maybe a pinch of rookie Brock Vereen thrown into the mix.
Because of injuries, Conte hasn't played much football since the end of last season, so he has had plenty of time to ruminate over the 2013 season, the worst of his career.
He seems to have taken the criticism to heart, maybe too much so, although coach Marc Trestman isn't worried that the 25-year-old has been beaten down mentally or lost his confidence.
"It's not a concern because I hadn't thought about it," Trestman said. "I haven't even addressed that. Chris has played a lot of football. He's a professional. 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 going to get an opportunity to play this week.
"The thought never entered my mind, quite frankly."
But Conte wouldn't be human if negative thoughts hadn't entered his mind during what has been an excruciatingly long layoff. He had off-season shoulder surgery to correct a problem that had become chronic, keeping him off the field through most of training camp.
After finally getting back on the field in the third preseason game, he promptly suffered a concussion. That happened several plays after he delivered a sledgehammer hit to Seattle tight end Luke Wilson that knocked the ball from his grasp in the end zone and saved a touchdown.
Wilson is 6-foot-5 and 251 pounds. Conte is 6-2 and 203, but he relished the contact.
"That's why you play football," he said. "You want to go out there and hit people and make plays, so it definitely felt good."
That play resonated with Bears coach Marc Trestman, who hasn't had many opportunities to observe Conte but came away from that game encouraged.
"The one hit in Seattle showed me that he came back, he wanted to tackle and make plays," Trestman said. "He's going to continue to get better as the season moves forward. He's had good practices. We're looking forward to seeing him out there this week."
Conte insists the concussion won't take anything away from the aggressiveness he always has played with or from his physical nature.
"You play football, and you're going to get hurt, and you're going to bang your head," he said. "It's what you sign up for. You can't think about stuff like that."
Getting back on the field and redeeming himself have occupied much more of Conte's thoughts than injuries.
"It's what I've been waiting for ever since last season ended," he said. "Just getting another opportunity to go out there and play football and prove myself."
Will Bears fans forgive and forget?
"We'll see, man," said Conte, but he didn't seem hopeful.
As for the surgical shoulder, the hit he laid on Wilson should have allayed any fears about his physical health.
"The shoulder feels good," Conte said. "I'm happy with where my shoulder's at."
The only issue now is where his head's at.
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