The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will have plenty of competition at the safety position during camp and Chris Conte will be right in the center of it.
For the past three seasons, Chris Conte has been roaming the secondary for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The former third-round pick out of California has managed to keep a starting role despite the Buccaneers efforts to improve at the position. General manager Jason Licht signed former Pro Bowler T.J. Ward and drafted Justin Evans in the second round last season but Conte has remained in the starting spot.
Although he has faced his fair share of flak from the Tampa Bay faithful, Conte has been a constant in the back end of the defense. His average Pro Football Focus grade of 74.6 goes a long way towards defining his career with the franchise.
In his stint with the Bucs, Conte has 225 combined tackles, five interceptions and 19 passes defended.
For the last few seasons, the Buccaneers coaching staff have consistently gone with Conte because of his knowledge of the defense and consistency. Sticking with Conte is the right move for defensive coordinator Mike Smith.
Maybe the criticism of Conte is highlighted because of the team’s awful pass defense. In recent history, the Buccaneers have been torn apart through the air and he has been right in the middle of it.
Yes, Conte deserves a good chunk of the blame during this poor stretch. Although the rest of the secondary hasn’t lived up to expectations either. The cornerbacks have been particularly poor with Brent Grimes as the only consistent contributor of late.
With two new rookie corners joining the fold in M.J. Stewart and Carlton Davis and another year for Vernon Hargreaves to develop, Conte may finally be surrounded by talent.
Conte has been good enough to continue to see the field but he hasn’t developed into a truly dependable starter. However, the Buccaneers haven’t been able or willing to find a suitable replacement for him.
Veteran Keith Tandy appeared to have a breakout season in 2016 with four interceptions and 57 combined tackles. Tandy would take a major step back in the following year and was mainly a special teams player. As for Ward, the big free agent signing didn’t pan out and allowed for Conte to continue to see the majority of the snaps.
With Ward off the team and Tandy well behind Conte in the pecking order, Justin Evans appears to be at the top of the totem pole with Conte right there with him.
The one dark horse in this race is rookie Jordan Whitehead. The Pittsburgh product is a versatile defensive back with tremendous athleticism. However, he is extremely raw and will need time before he is ready for a big role in the NFL.
Opting to go with Tandy or Whitehead wouldn’t move the needle much.
All of the question marks surrounding the other safeties on the roster will open the door for Conte. Perhaps in a season or two, Whitehead becomes the guy next to Evans but that likely won’t happen in 2018.
The Buccaneers have a talented front seven which should take the pressure off of the defensive backs. With an easier task ahead of him, Conte’s ability to play within the system will do wonders for what will be a young Tampa Bay secondary.