Tampa Bay safety Chris Conte is one of the most misunderstood Buccaneers on the roster. Unfairly compared to former Bucs safety Sabby Piscitelli because of the physical resemblance, Conte hasn’t exactly been a fan favorite in Tampa Bay because of a reputation that followed him from his days in Chicago. But his pick-six against the Bears last year was the catalyst for a defensive turnaround that fueled the Bucs to a 6-2 finish and a 9-7 record. Tampa Bay fans began to really appreciate Conte’s play when his end zone interception at Kansas City in the fourth quarter led to Tampa Bay’s comeback win at Arrowhead.
Conte was re-signed to a two-year deal in the offseason as the Bucs chose him over Bradley McDougald, who signed with Seattle in free agency. While newcomers J.J. Wilcox and Justin Evans, the team’s second-round pick, will provide competition, Conte enters training camp as the starting free safety next to strong safety Keith Tandy, who was tied for the lead in interceptions with four. Now it’s up to Conte to keep the rookie and the former Dallas Cowboy at bay.
It’s been a busy this offseason as Conte and his girlfriend, former Buccaneers Cheerleader Stephanie Everett, are expecting a child and he bought a house in Tampa where they plan to call home after his football career is over. But with the offseason in the books and training camp is here, follow Conte on his journey to improve as a player, keep his starting job and help get the Bucs into the playoffs in his Training Camp Diary on PewterReport.com.
I WAS REALLY IMPRESSED WITH JAMEIS By Chris Conte as told to Scott Reynolds
I’m excited to get back to work and start training camp. I think we developed a good bond last year. I think we have a close-knit team. I think we have some good leaders. I think that’s continuing to grow. We got better. We brought a lot of the same guys back and added a few good pieces. I think we can really keep the momentum going.
Bucs FS Justin Evans – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
I think we had some good signings. Justin Evans, it’s hard to really know because I haven’t seen him do much of anything because he’s been injured, but I can tell that he’s wiry and explosive. You can see the way the kid jumps. He’s an explosive kid. He moves well and seems like a smart player. I have only had a very limited amount of time with him. I think they did their homework on him and picked a kid that is going to be a good NFL player for a while.
J.J. Wilcox is a guy I’ve seen for a while on the Cowboys. He’s a physical player and I think he’ll bring that to our defense. I think he has that leadership quality, and I think he’s a good addition, too.
At this point in my career I think you want competition. It’s not that you need pushing, but I think it’s helpful to have a little kick in the butt. You have to take your game to the next step. Having guys like that come in, it kind of puts you in that mentality where you’ve got to be on top of your stuff or I’m not going to be where I want to be. I have to be on top of my game because these guys are good, too.
We missed the playoffs last year, but you take the good things from last year. And there were some encouraging things we did at the end of the year – but the goal is always to make the playoffs. You look back and if we had won this game or played a little better in that game or a couple of plays that could have gone our way we would have made it. Those “what ifs” always hurt, and it came down to some of those early games that could have gone another way. That could have changed our whole season. If we could have won one more game then we would have been in the playoffs. And if we would have made the playoffs you never know what could have happened.
I think Mike Smith’s defense is great. There is so much going on that it’s the kind of defense you want to be in because it’s a challenge. Every week you have to be on top of your game. You have to study. He challenges you mentally. It’s fun as a football player because you are not lining up and doing the same thing every week. You feel like you can really have the upper hand instead of feeling like the quarterback always knows what you are going to be in and just executing that to the best of your ability. You believe “Hey, we can really get this guy and confuse this guy and do different things.” It gives you the opportunity to make some plays where you can just fool somebody. It’s a lot of fun.
Bucs safety Chris Conte – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
My pick-six against Chicago meant a lot to me personally, but it also meant a lot to our team because we knew we were almost there as a defense. It was just little communication things that would go wrong. We knew we had the talent and it was just a matter of time before we got everybody on the same page. We had a lull of not getting many turnovers in the first part of the year, but after that it seemed like everybody was making plays. That little run we went on at the end of the season was fun. All the guys were feeling good and feeling confident in the defense.
Looking back, Chicago was a tough situation for me. Once Lovie Smith left we tried to run his defense without Lovie being there. We had a lot of injuries and just a bad defense. There were a lot of guys on that team that aren’t even playing in the NFL anymore. That’s a city that loves football and when football isn’t going well there are going to be a lot of angry people. It seems like there are Chicago fans everywhere, even in Tampa. From that one season in 2013 when we had a bad year there was a lot of negativity that surrounds me. I don’t know why or how to get rid of that, but I’ve stopped worrying about that and trying to change people’s minds. I’m just going out there to do what I do and enjoy playing the game that I love and play for the people that I care about. There are always going to be people out there saying negative things. I can’t worry about that.
I don’t know if I’m your typical DB. There are not a lot of white guys out there. I think I may be the only white guy on our defense. It’s a lot easier when you’re watching TV to say, “Look at the white guy there!” (Laughs) You kind of stick out like a sore thumb, so when we miss a play it’s easy to say, “Oh, that’s Chris.”
I don’t know if that plays a role in it, but I get targeted for a lot of things. It is what it is. Maybe people don’t know me all that well outside of football, but I also don’t want to put my whole life out there. I don’t want to be that person to invite people out there to know everything about me. I’m happy for people to get to know me, but I also don’t make my life about Instagram and all that. I don’t need 100,000 followers. I’m fine with the friends I have.
I think Gerald McCoy is also a bit misunderstood. I guess I don’t pay attention to what people say when they say, “Oh, he’s not your typical leader” and things like that. But I see Gerald every day and I see how hard he works. It’s hard for me to understand all of the criticism of him because you see what he does on the field and how he works off the field and all of the charity stuff he does and the money he gives back to people. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me why anybody would have any criticism of that guy.
Keith Tandy and I study together and we have spent a little bit of time together off the field. They have a little one and Stephanie, my girlfriend, is pregnant, so that’s been a big help, with Melissa, his fiancée` helping Stephanie. They’ve had a good relationship together. It’s kind of hard in the NFL because people come and go, but when there is somebody who is a good person that you have a lot in common with it’s good to have a teammate that is more than just a teammate. He’s a good friend.
I love Tampa. I have only played in one other place, but I’ve really taken a liking to Tampa. Obviously, I met Stephanie here. I’ve just really enjoyed the town and the feeling here. I kind of like the smaller town feeling. The weather – I don’t mind the heat and humidity. I bought a place here. I stayed here the whole offseason and did my training here. I would love to stay here as long as possible. I think I will always own something here in Tampa. I’ll always have a connection to Tampa, and obviously with Stephanie’s family close by in Orlando I think Florida has become home to me.
Bucs QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
At the safety position, I spend most of my time looking at Jameis Wintson and I was really impressed with Jameis this offseason. I’ve been through spring football with him before, but it just seems like he’s on another level. He’s really stepped up his game and he knows where to go with the ball. He’s not making mistakes. He’s throwing the ball really well. It looks like he’s at a really good place mentally with his understanding of the offense. It’s exciting to see. He really looks like he knows what he’s doing. He’s comfortable. He’s confident. It all seems like it’s clicking. Hopefully that continues. From an offseason standpoint I thought he looked really, really good.
Hard Knocks is here and we’ll see how it goes. It is what it is. It is a distraction, but we can’t let it affect us too much. I think the important thing is for everybody to be themselves and not try to act for the camera. It’s hard because everything you do and say is going to be analyzed. In a football camp with a lot going on and different interactions taking place and when all that is getting filmed things can get taken out of context. Sometimes that added attention can be bad, but hopefully it can be a positive experience for us. I’ll watch the shows, though. I think it would be hard not to. Everybody will be watching it and hopefully it is a funny experience and it’s good.
The excitement is great and we have to really feel like this is our team. We need you to get behind the Bucs and come out to games and support us. Tampa is an awesome place and when things go well for the football team I think it helps Tampa. It helps the community and builds the community and together we can put this town back on the football map.
We’re a team that everyone is looking at. Hard Knocks is here so we’re going to get a lot of national exposure. Hopefully we can build off that and become a team that everyone is talking about and respects. When people come to Tampa let’s not make it a destination city for other fans. Let’s make it a place where people come in and lose football games.
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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com
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