After looking at a pair of second year players who need to step up in 2014, today attention will be turned to a fourth-year veteran who faces stiff competition and could be playing for his career this year.
Not since Gabe Carimi has a Bears player fallen so quickly and harshly out of favor with fans as Chris Conte did last year.
After his first two solid-if-unspectacular seasons in the league, fans weren't worried much about Conte heading into 2013. Unfortunately, fair or unfair, Conte became the face of the defensive struggles last season.
Not all of it was on him, as failures at the defensive levels in front of him forced him to make plays at the last level, but too often he was out of position or just couldn't get it done. His pass coverage skills also took a step back as his confidence took a hit, and things just snowballed out of control for him and other members of the defense.
Offseason additions and Conte's recovery from shoulder surgery have many counting him out, but I think it's too soon for that.
While rookie Brock Vereen has been seeing starting reps and is already being praised as a "gem", the old adage "everyone looks good in June" must be repeated and expectations tempered. Vereen could very well make the leap to starter; he is a fourth-round pick making the leap to the NFL. Even if he wins the starting job there is a chance that at some point Conte will be called upon, whether it's due to injury or poor play.
For better or worse I don't think the Bears have heard the last from Conte. Conte has played well in the past and, while last season was a major setback to his confidence and skills, he seems like a player who will not just step aside and let his job go to someone else.
It will depend on how healthy he is and how quickly he knock off the rust when the pads go on at Bourbannais later this month. He's played in 45 NFL games with 40 starts and, while there is a more experienced safety on the roster in Adrian Wilson, Conte has more experience in this system and has started more games than all the other safeties on the roster, minus Wilson.
Expect Conte to come out in training camp with a chip on his shoulder hoping to avenge his 2013 season. He even said as much back in January when he talked with David Haugh.
"Look, I know I didn't have a great year,'' Conte said. "I'm going to work as hard as I've ever worked and have a chip on my shoulder. I'm going to be angry. This sucks. I'm going to be better next year because of this whole situation — because I don't want this to happen to me again."
Do you think Conte can step up and contribute in 2014?