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Remembering The Seniors: Chris Conte

[We are looking back at some of the contributions of players leaving the Cal football team.  We've looked at Cameron JordanKevin RileyMike MohamedShane Vereen, and now Chris Conte.  Also, don't forget to check out our interview with Cameron Jordan.  GO BEARS!]

TwistNHook:  These are exciting times for all the NFL prospects.  None more so than Chris Conte, who is creating some buzz for himself heading into the NFL draft at the end of this month.

Cal Safety Chris Conte has a private workout scheduled with the Seahawks (date TBD). Conte is another potentially targeted free safety that I suspect will be brought in and evaluated at both safety positions but looked at as a possible corner as well. I could be way off base, but given that cornerback is a big need spot for the Hawks and free safety is much less so with Earl Thomas being drafted last year, I don't know if the Hawks spend an mid round pick on another free safety. I suppose they could be considering him at strong safety as well although he'd have to gain at least 10-15 lbs to work there. Obviously, depth is key in the NFL and if Earl ThomasKam Chancellor / Lawyer Milloy / Whoever gets hurt a capable backup behind him will be important, but a guy like Conte could potentially play multiple spots.



The 6'2, 200lb Chris Conte was recruited and brought in to Cal as a big, physical cornerback out of high school. He played corner for the Golden Bears the first three years of his career there with little game time action, then switched to free safety his senior year where he excelled - earning First Team All Pac-10 Honors. He ended his college career with 157 tackles, 4 of them for a loss, 2 interceptions, 11 pass breakups, one fumble recovery, one forced fumble and one blocked kick for a TD. At the combine he recorded a 4.52 in the 40 and benched 225 18 times. He has a 35.5 in vert.



Hope that it all works out for Conte.  What are your memories of Chris Conte?

LeonPowe:  First, I thought he was going to be the next Jason Sehorn. I mean, let's be truthful here, white cornerbacks are just a very rare phenomenon in high level sports. I wish we could get beyond race in athletics, but Conte at cornerback is something that stands out, no matter how much we wish it didn't.

But anyways, Conte turned out to be a talented, but flawed corner, occasionally making uneblievable plays, and sometimes failing at basic pass defense. I never thought he would be someone playing at the next level . . . until this year and his move to safety.

Bam! It was like watching a bigger faster Eric Zomalt. Passes defended, big hits delivered - Conte wasn't the best safety of recent years (DeCoud, McClesky) but he made big hits and big plays and was huge part of this year's oftentimes awesome defense. Its too bad it took 3 years to discover his real role as a hard hitting safety, instead of a mis-placed corner, but I'm glad we finally figured it out.

HydroTech:  My earliest memories of Conte were of his shaky starts as a freshman.  He played admirably against older and more experienced players -- I'll give him that, but he was far from outstanding.  This last year seemed to be a huge transformation for him when he moved to safety.  He was incredibly instinctive and always seemed to be near or around the ball.  He looked like a whole new player.  I think his performance this last year might have earned him a serious look by some NFL teams. 

Another memory of mine was the whole controversy surrounding Conte's commitment to Cal.  If memory serves me correctly, I think Conte originally committed to UCLAme.  There were rumors of a supposed "silent commit" to Cal who was publicly committed at another school and it turned out this person was Conte.  I believe when Conte was later interviewed about why he didn't want to publicly change his commitment he said something about how he knew or thought the UCLA coaches would react and he didn't want to have them on his back for the rest of the recruiting session.  I always found that a bit interesting. 

OhioBear:  When I think of Chris Conte, I remember five plays (4 good, 1 not so good) --
1.  Being unceremoniously run over by Jonathan Stewart in the 2007 Oregon game
2.  Jumping the route big time and intercepting Rudy Carpenter in the 2008 ASU game, losing his helmet in the process
3.  Making the heads-up tackle to thwart a fake punt attempt in the 2008 Ucla game
4.  Tackling the ball carrier for a 5-yard loss on a 3rd down at Oregon State in 2008, ensuring we'd get the ball back one more time (yeah, it ended up being for a Kevin Riley pick 6, but hey -- it was an important play at the time!)
5.  The johnny-on-the-spot interception in the end zone near the end of the 1st half of last year's Arizona game
I'll also remember Conte as a prized recruit whom we wrestled away from Ucla at the wire on signing day 2007.  I remember being surprised when he did not redshirt and then being somewhat underwhelmed his performance as a freshman.  But I will also remember Conte's improvement, particularly as a senior.  He became a true strength of our secondary as a senior and played his way into the discussion to be a draft pick in the NFL. 
All things considered, I will remember Conte fondly. 

Kodiak:  I remember being surprised that Conte would earn playing time as a true frosh.  He took his lumps that year.  Always around the ball in time to make a tackle, but never really in position to make a play while it was in the air.  That didn't bother me because there's a long and proud tradition of young Cal CB's getting lit up like Xmas trees.  I was somewhat disappointed to see this pattern continue for the next two years.  And then the lights came on last year.  Instead of a gangly two-foot DB (two feet away from making a difference), you had a smart, instinctive player who emerged as our best safety.  Whether it was his choice or the coaching staff's, it makes you wonder what might have been had he been able to play safety for four years.  I think he was underrated as an athlete - if anything, his style of play was to avoid risks and mistakes.  He was good at being in position to staunch the bleeding, but not necessarily to make a game-breaking play.  Until his senior year where I think he had both the confidence and the scheme to cut loose.  In the right scheme, I could see him finding a spot in the NFL as a solid backup safety.

Solarise:  The image of Conte's INT against Arizona is how I will remember Chris Conte. His combination of size & speed always intrigued me on the field. When Conte stepped in at CB in 2007 I was hoping for big things. Then seeing Conte getting burned consistently at nickelback in 2008 & 2009 had me question my original assumptions. Moving to safety in 2010 was perhaps the best football decision Conte & the coaches made. He was rarely out of position and turned in an All-Pac 10 performance. Conte had a good NFL Combine after the season too. I wish him nothing but the best at the next level.

TwistNHook:  Where do you all see Chris Conte's career taking him?

Yellow Fever:  The Eagles have brought him in for a visit, so it stands to reason that they might have interest in bringing him in as a contender for their starting job at SS next year.  Like most non-blue chips with a ton of athletic ability, it seems like his lot in life next year will be to fortify some team's specials teams as a mid-round pick, with the potential to develop into a starter down the line if his performance warrants it.  Much like Syd did this past year with the Broncos.  It's hard to say whether or not he'll have the chops to become a regular starter, especially since the NFL is much more of a passing league and teams are more capable of isolating weak coverage defenders in secondaries (see this year's Dallas Cowboys), but like solarise said, I can see him being a third safety who plays more of a hybrid-LB role off the bat.

OhioBear:  Much like the 49ers rue the day that they took Alex Smith over Aaron Rodgers, some poor sap of a team will rue the day they drafted Patrick Peterson ahead of Chris Conte!! 
Okay, kidding.  Obvi. But I do think that Conte is good enough to be drafted, maybe somwhere in the last 3 rounds.  He is a safety with cover skills -- that is a valuable commodity in the NFL.  I kind of see him as Matt Giordano 2.0: maybe not as good a tackler as Giordano, but better in coverage.