clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Bears Sunday Playbook: Injuries mar better season for Chris Conte

In Week 2 against the San Francisco 49ers, Chris Conte made a play that not every safety can make. He went airborne to do it.

Conte read quarterback Colin Kaepernick perfectly, broke on a pass down the seam to receiver Anquan Boldin and flew through the air — his feet were parallel to his shoulders — for an interception.

When it happened, NBC color analyst Cris Collinsworth called it a ‘‘spectacular’’ play. It also was one that Conte was hellbent to make after his mishaps in 2013.

But there was a problem.

‘‘I hurt my shoulder,’’ Conte said. ‘‘I was trying to play with it in the Jets game [in Week 3], and I can’t play the way I want to play. Every time I hit someone, it’s hurting.

‘‘It was just unfortunate things that kept happening. I hoped that I showed that I’m a football player that can help a team, make plays and be out there and be successful.’’

Conte’s season is over. He’ll sit out Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings with a nagging back injury that also cost him the previous two games.

It’s just been that type of season for Conte, who has sprained both shoulders, endured two concussions and left the Thanksgiving game in Detroit with an eye injury, all in the final year of his rookie contract.

‘‘It was just unfortunate things that I never really experienced before,’’ said Conte, a third-round pick in 2011.

It’s unfortunate because those ‘‘unfortunate things’’ have overshadowed a solid 2014 season in which he he showed has a place in this league. All three of his interceptions this year have been of the “spectacular” variety.

Some folks just don’t want to admit that the Bears defense, as frustrating as it was this season, was better with Conte on the field. And some folks don’t want to acknowledge that Conte had two promising seasons before 2013 or that coaches still consider him a young player in his fourth season.

‘‘I don’t know if it’s just a Chicago thing where people have a perception of me as who-even-knows-what,’’ Conte said. “My name just carries a negative connotation around Chicago these days. It’s unfortunate. I really don’t know if there’s a way to changing that. I thought I played pretty well this season, but it didn’t seem to change the way people felt about me.’’

Conte just can’t win these days. Recently, his comments about giving up a ‘‘long life’’ for football went viral, though some context was needed. Conte wasn’t talking about concussions, which, he said, should be taken seriously. He was referencing the longstanding perception that NFL players have shorter lifespans and that he’s willing to play through injuries, as he has this season and players have done forever.

‘‘My point is that I’m passionate about football and I’m not going to stop playing football,’’ he said. ‘‘This is what I’ve chosen to do, and I accept the risks that come along with football. I have no intention of wanting to die early or anything like that.

‘‘[But] I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything else. It’s what I’ve dreamed of doing. I’m living a dream that I’ve had since I was a little kid.’’

It’s should continue in 2015 and beyond. Conte has earned it.

‘‘I’m going to keep on working until I can maximize all the potential I have,’’ he said. ‘‘I think there’s a lot of good football and plays out there that I can make in the future. Hopefully, I get the opportunity to do that and I can continue to prove myself.’’

UNSUNG SPOTLIGHT: Punter Pat O’Donnell

General manager Phil Emery’s decision to select punter Pat O’Donnell in the sixth round initially raised some eyebrows. But the value of “Mega-Punt” has shown through this season.

“Pat has had a very solid rookie season,” special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said. “A lot of times kickers, for whatever reason, they don’t make it that first go around. Then they have that year to kind of get themselves in line and get better, sometimes it’s two, three times.

“Pat didn’t have that because he came in as a rookie and had to get going. We’re pleased with where he’s at. We think he’s going to be a heck of a punter down the road.”

O’Donnell still has work to do, whether it’s his consistency late in games or his directional punts. His 43.7 gross average is the eighth-best mark in team history, but is currently 31st in the NFL. Still, the Panthers’ wild touchdown return on a broken play in Week 5 is the only score against him.

“He’s really done everything we’ve asked him to do and you can’t be a better kid,” DeCamillis said. “He’s the kind of kid you want your daughter to date to be honest with you.”

COACH’S CORNER: Looking at Bears quarterback Jay Cutler with coach Marc Trestman

“I said very specifically that I believe that Jay can work his way out of this. And I’ve enjoyed coaching him and working with him. . … [Getting benched] was a tough week on him. I empathize with him on that. But we’re moving forward, both with the idea that we’ve worked together for a long time.

“Jay’s always going to try to [learn]. He is an experienced quarterback, but he is very observant. He watches everything. He watches other players around the league.

“Jay, he’s on a journey of his own. It’s been a very, very tough year for him in terms of playing at a consistent level, but I’ve seen this before and I have faith that he’s going to return.”

“Jay is clearly our best option in this case. David [Fales] has worked very hard but he has certainly not had the opportunities [at practice] because of the opportunities that [Jimmy Clausen’s] had throughout the season. Certainly, Jay gives us the best option. He was the quarterback when we played Minnesota in the first game. He’ll be the quarterback this Sunday and David will be in a backup position.

“We’re playing the game as an independent entity. Jay’s got to go out, as do the rest of us and his teammates go, and play at their best. I don’t look at it as any more than that. We’ve got to play well enough to win and we’ve got to play well at the quarterback to win.”