BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – It has been a long time coming and maybe for Chris Conte, this was the first big step back.
Conte stepped in front of a wobbling underthrow by quarterback Jordan Palmer in the end zone on Monday, picked off the pass and ran the requisite yards into the other end zone, in this case more than 100 yards total and with many of the 4,000 fans giving him a warm ovation his entire way down the field.
The last time Conte had a chance to intercept a pass, things didn’t go as well.
That was in Week 17 against the Green Bay Packers and an Aaron Rodgers pass went through his hands in the fourth quarter, an interception that very likely would have altered the outcome of the game and season. That was followed by the breakdown that allowed Randall Cobb to streak by Conte for the game-winning touchdown.
“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.”
Conte’s interception was a highlight on his second practice back after offseason shoulder surgery and rehab. He has worked alongside Adrian Wilson in practice, playing with the No. 2 unit on Monday as Danny McCray and Ryan Mundy, the starters last Friday against Philadelphia, were paired most often with the No. 1 defense.
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No decision was announced on whether Conte would be part of the safety rotation this Thursday against Jacksonville. For now the plan has been to fold him into the changing mix of groupings, meaning that he is indeed being forced to re-earn the job he held for several years.
“We’ll give him some reps, maybe not his full allotment of reps that he would normally get, and then we look to increase them as we go,” said defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. “So you saw him today, he got some reps. I think they were quality reps and he was where he was supposed to be and made a play. Then you evaluate him and then move on to the next day. That’s kind of how you handle that.
“He’s been eager to get back out there and we’ve been eager to get him back. Right now it’s a matter of just the day to day work that needs to be put in on the field and the classroom. He’s already done that in the classroom and he’s stepped onto the field. We’re just going to take it one rep at a time. We think that’s the best approach.”
Because of limitations that caused the organization to open camp with him on the PUP list, Conte’s work has been in film and playbook study this offseason. But a measure of it has been in the mirror as well.
“A lot of soul searching,” Conte said. “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 football person and a better football player.”