TAMPA — The traditional wisdom for athletes on Twitter — for public figures in general — is to ignore the doubters and critics, to stay away from the negativity that inevitably pops up from fans and media.
Chris Conte embraces the hate, and if it's negative enough, the Bucs safety will even send it out to his followers as added motivation.
When ESPN didn't include Conte on its projected 53-man Bucs roster in training camp, he posted a link on his Twitter account to its story. When Bucs website Pewter Report suggested another safety deserved a roster spot at his expense, he passed that along as well.
And Sunday, when he intercepted a Drew Brees pass in the Bucs' 26-19 win at the Saints, barstoolsports.com posted on Twitter that "Getting picked off by Chris Conte is never a good sign."
Yes, Conte sent that to his followers, too.
"It's a way of just saying, 'If this is what you think about me, I'm going to show you that it's not true,' " said Conte, 26, who should make his second straight start Sunday at Houston. "I think a lot of people have a vision of me, have feelings of me that I don't believe in, that I don't think are true."
Conte had a stellar game against the Saints, with the interception and a crucial forced fumble; he popped the ball loose as the Saints were driving for a go-ahead score in the fourth quarter. He also had a tackle for loss, dropping Brees for a 21-yard loss after sharply recognizing from afar that a loose ball wasn't an incomplete pass but a fumble and thus a live ball.
It was a strong first impression to make on Tampa Bay fans, especially after a concerning training camp that saw him sidelined for three weeks with a hamstring injury. If there were concerns about Conte from his days with the Bears in 2011-14, it was the number of injuries he had fought through, including two concussions last year.
"I was well aware of his talent," said Bucs defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, who faced Conte twice a year when he was coaching with the Vikings from 2007-13. "The big concern was the injury history. … We know when he is on the field and he is healthy, he is a very good player, and he showed that on Sunday. … We know he is more than capable as a player. It's just a matter of keeping him on the field."
Conte is one of several newcomers to this year's defense who have a history with coach Lovie Smith dating to his time coaching the Bears from 2004-12, including cornerback Tim Jennings, likely another new starter this week. Newcomers played roles in all three takeaways against the Saints, with another former Bear, defensive end Henry Melton, recovering the fumble Conte forced.
"Very encouraging, but I've been with (Conte) for a while," said Smith, who was in Chicago when Conte was drafted in the third round in 2011 out of Cal. "He has the skills. If you watch him going through drills, you say, 'Who is that guy?' He's quick, changes direction, has good hands, but you need to see it on the field. He's coming on strong and can help us a lot."
Conte said he quit Twitter after being part of Bears defenses that struggled, especially after Smith was fired after the 2012 season. He returned to it last spring only because his mother was annoyed by fake accounts claiming to be his. He has found criticism on Twitter to be a consistent motivator, and if the criticism goes away, it's a good sign about his progress with the Bucs.
Conte came to Tampa on a "prove it" contract, one year and $1.5 million, but he hopes he shows enough this season to earn a longer, larger contract to stay with the Bucs.
"This is where I want to make home, where I want to be, with Lovie. I want to do everything I can to make him successful," Conte said. "By making him successful, hopefully I can stick around here and make this home. I want to make this a winning place I can stick around and have a lot of fun."
Contact Greg Auman at firstname.lastname@example.org and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.