Safety isn’t the Bucs deepest position, coach Dirk Koetter will admit, but the starters have risen to the occasion and looked the part so far in training camp.
The star on Day 9 of practice was Chris Conte, who signed another one-year deal in the offseason. The sixth-year pro intercepted two passes off Jameis Winston – the first during the two-minute period and the second in low-red zone – and should’ve had a third (by his own concession) when he jumped Winston’s out-route pass to Cameron Brate near the end of Saturday’s practice.
In short, the athletic safety was everywhere.
“Conte really covers like a corner,” Koetter said after practice. “He’s a tall guy back there. He’s not built like a corner, but if you watch him in one-on-one drills, he can cover. The guy can cover wideouts. We’re real pleased with that.”
For a player known more for his hard-nosed style and fierce tackling, improvement in coverage would make Conte a complete safety. Pair that with Bradley McDougald, who Koetter also noted for playing at a high level in camp, and the Bucs quietly have a sound tandem in the backend.
“Conte and McDougald, the two starting safeties, have both been real solid. We’re pleased with those guys,” Koetter said, including Keith Tandy in the mix. “Safety is not our deepest position on our team right now, but those guys are off to a good start so far.
Added defensive coordinator Mike Smith: “Chris is a very cerebral player. He has a good idea of what’s coming pre-snap and he’s done a nice job. We’re asking our safeties to do a whole lot. They have to play four or five different techniques depending on what the call is and he’s done a nice job. He’s getting his hands on balls, he’s directing and when we get jacked up he can get us fixed.
“Bradley has had some real good days as well,” Smith continued. “We’re going to go how our defensive line and our secondary go. They’re the guys that are going to bring pressure and they’re going to be the final line of defense. So it’s going to be important that we have good secondary play and Bradley’s doing a nice job as well.”
And they’re getting the opportunity to be flexible in the defense. As Smith said, they’re asking the safeties “to do a whole lot.” In recent days words like “variety” and “multiple” have often been thrown out to describe the scheme and the style seems to be resonating with the players.
There’s still a lot more to learn, Conte said, but the comfort level is rising right along with the responsibilities.
“As a football player, you don’t want to be doing the same thing all the time,” Conte said. “It’s nice to be able to blitz a little and play some coverage, be able to play the deep zone and do some different stuff. It’s a lot of fun for us. A lot different than what we were doing before.
Bucs S Chris Conte – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
“You just have to spend a lot of time with it because there’s a lot to know and a lot to learn. I think we’re just reaching the tip of it, breaking into it – there’s a lot more to learn, a lot more intricacies that we have to get more comfortable with.”
Though the Bucs secondary ranked near the bottom in every category last season, including an unusually high 70 percent completion rate allowed to opposing quarterbacks, Conte certainly had his moments. With 79 tackles, fourth most on the team, two forced fumbles and two interceptions, one would think he did enough to earn more than a one-year, $3 million deal in 2016 – especially given the free agent market at safety and the Bucs intention to draft a cornerback in the first round.
As it turns out, though, the decision to return on another prove-it-type contract was his. Conte is putting his money – literally and figuratively – on this season being a big one for him and, in turn, getting an even better long-term deal as reward.
“Whenever there’s guaranteed money involved – if it’s only in the first year or second year, it doesn’t really matter,” Conte said. “For me, in my situation, the best decision was to take the first year and then improve myself and then hopefully get a long-term deal after that.”
The Bucs are still five days out from even taking the field for their first preseason game, but so far in OTAs and training camp, the 27-year old safety is off to a good start.
Zach is entering his 3rd year covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a writer for PewterReport.com. Since 2014, he's handled a large part of the beat reporting responsibilities at PR, attending all media gatherings and publishing and promoting content daily. Zach is a native of Sarasota, FL, and a graduate of the University of Tampa. He has also covered high school football for the Tampa Tribune and the NFL for Pro Player Insiders.
Contact him at: [email protected]
Hmmm…just not sure yet. Was it really coaching and not lack of talent too?
I thought out of all the DB’s last year, Conte actually played pretty well.
Yes, I agree; that’s what bothers me. I’m still not sure what we have at Safety yet.
My friend in Chicago always hated him. He has recently told me he has changed he’s mind about him. He believes and so do I that all his issues were all bad coaching by Lovie. GO BUCS
Come on haters. Let’s here it!
Iam please that the bucs are working to improve the Safety position this year. But just a note in a pre-draft for 2017. Some Experts says the WRF is No#1 prioety.Safety No#2 ,OT & Edge positions are No#3 Concerns.I think Safety should be main concerns next year.
Conte has definitely shown flashes. Always catches the injury bug for some reason. He had a steady year last year, even in Lovie’s Predictable 2. With some competent coaching, he could be a pleasant surprise this year.
If the D line improves then the back end will follow.
Go Bucs !!!
Lots of good posts here. All the good vibrations directed towards Conte will surely drive jongruden into a snarling pit bull who hasn’t eaten a little kitten in a week.
I think by now we have heard from every Buc defender about how predictable their defense was last year.
The only thing I’m fearful of is with all these multiple formations and coverages their will be confusion among the players and big breakdowns will incur.
I remember in Schiano’s final year the Bucs were playing multiple coverages and a lot of times the defenders were left pointing at each other after a TD.
It is paramount that the defensive players will have to have great communication between themselves in order for it to work.
Everyone that wears the Bucs Uniform is a stud! Right DRneast?
drdneast, your point about Schiano’s defense is a good one. I have thought about that too, and for me the difference is coaching. This is a much more talented staff with tons of experience. I don’t think they will make more complicated then they need to.
Since we haven’t heard much about him. I spent some time at Saturday’s practice watching our 4th round Safety, Ryan Smith. He didn’t get many reps and was relatively invisible. Like most back-ups, he was involved with Special Teams. Anyone have a take on #29?
Conte’s biggest problem is his heath, he’s one good head bang from having to leave the game for good. Tandy is a reliable back up, after that you tell me. Haven’t heard anything about Schumate from N.D.. Never been high on Major Wright, so let’s see who flashes Thursday.
Conte isn’t a stud. Nor does he suck. He’s a decent corner that has lot of injuries.will see what happens this year. He could be a big surprise if he stays healthy and there is an actual pass rush and not a stupid vanilla defense always run like last couple years of Lovie.
As far as the he secondary confused because of multiple coverages don’t see it. Not comparing apples to apples with coaching or personal. Plenty of teams play multiple coverages and this isn’t an issue.
Meant safety not CN. The whole “covers like a CB” mixed me up. Lol.
Agree surferdudes we get couple injuries and depth is scary at safety. Lot of big question marks after Keith Tandy.
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