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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,” he 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.
Now it’s up to Conte to adapt with Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy up next. The Eagles (3-4) are just two games behind the division-leading New York Giants and coming off a dominating victory over the Cowboys. The Eagles scored on their first six possessions and went 4 for 6 inside the red zone.
“I don’t think there’s any more pressure on me,” Conte said. “I’ll have the same role I had before. So I think I’ll have the same amount of pressure.”
Vick’s mobility challenges safeties and cornerbacks.
“It’s real difficult for us as a secondary because he creates a lot of time for the (receivers) to get open with his legs,” cornerback Tim Jennings said. “But we believe in our pass rush and our rush is going to get to him and make it easy for us in the back seven. So we’ve just got to stay in cover and believe in our pass rush.”
Jennings called it the key to stopping Philadelphia.
“We know that they’re a big play making team that thrives on making big plays down the field,” he said. “So we have to be able limit them and make them drive down the field and make it tough for them.”
After Vick, the Bears have to face Detroit’s Matthew Stafford and San Diego’s Philip Rivers the next two games.
Notes: The Chicago Bears signed RB Armando Allen to the practice squad. Allen was originally signed to the practice squad Sept. 5 and was released Oct. 11.
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