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Bucs safety Chris Conte reduces stress, adds fun to his job

Safety Chris Conte, returning an interception during training camp, is learning to stop getting down on himself too much.
Safety Chris Conte, returning an interception during training camp, is learning to stop getting down on himself too much.
Published Aug. 5, 2017

TAMPA — By all accounts, Chris Conte is one of the Bucs' most athletic players. He has earned almost $8 million in six NFL seasons. He's been a starting safety for the Bears and Bucs.

But Sunday hasn't always been a fun day for Conte.

Until now.

"I think a focus for me this year is to have more fun and enjoy it, and play a little more carefree," Conte said. "You don't get to play football for too long, so I really want to go out there and have fun and enjoy being around my teammates. I have kind of a different perspective on football and not stress out so much and be so hard on myself, which I really was last year."

The two biggest plays on defense last season were produced in back-to-back games by Conte.

His pick-six against the Bears set the tone for a 36-10 win that broke a two-game losing streak. The next week, he intercepted the Chiefs' Alex Smith in the end zone and returned the pick to midfield in a 19-17 victory at Kansas City.

Unfortunately, the next week he suffered a scary chest injury tackling Seahawks TE Jimmy Graham and spent a night in the hospital coughing up blood.

Most of the other wounds in Conte's career, however, have been self-inflicted.

"He's a guy who maybe in the past would get down on himself too much for no reason, in my opinion," coach Dirk Koetter said.

Conte, 28, spent the first five years of his career playing for the Bears and in the Tampa 2 scheme brought there by Lovie Smith. But with the arrival of defensive coordinator Mike Smith to Tampa Bay last year, Conte faced a steep learning curve and a self-admitted perfectionist fell short of his expectations.

"It was a new defense and a defense I'd never played in," Conte said. "I was in the same system for five years. So it was getting used to a new system and new calls and doing things that I hadn't done before. It was a little frustrating because there was a lot of information and a lot of communication. You wanted to do everything right, but it just took time. That was a frustrating process to get past though those hiccups and bumps in the road before everybody got on the same page. Once that happened, we started clicking and playing a lot better.

"Last year, you know I tried really hard to get the defense down, so whenever I made a mistake, I really would beat myself up. You know, you have that internal voice where you really do get down on yourself and become your own worst enemy."

Conte credits Koetter for addressing the mental side of playing in the NFL and bringing in Jim Brogan, a former NBA player who is the author of Inspiring Others to Win as well as an inspirational speaker.

"Coach Koetter has been awesome about that," Conte said. "Bringing in Jim Brogan, just having somebody to talk about all the things you have going on in your life and it's just really helpful. Most football coaches don't really give a crap about that. But the fact Coach Koetter does means a lot to us as players because such a big part of the game is that mental aspect. If you're not thinking right, then you're not going to do anything right."

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PLAYER TO WATCH: Cornerback depth is an issue for most teams, and the Bucs are no exception. An injury to either Brent Grimes or Vernon Hargreaves could be devastating.

Javien Elliott, a former Seminole, has emerged as the nickel corner early in training camp and could be the next man up should something happen to the starters. But a player to watch is Maurice Fleming, an undrafted rookie from West Virginia.

"The thing I like about him is, you don't see it, but if I look out my office about 7 o'clock every morning, it's still kind of dark, he's out there behind the shed doing drills on his own," Koetter said. "There's a guy that's waiting for his opportunity. You can see that he's a tough guy and he's a hitter, and it's going to be fun to see him next week against Cincinnati to see what he can do because he's going to get a chance."

RYAN'S HOPE: The battle for the No. 2 quarterback position is tighter than you probably imagine after the team signed Jets free agent Ryan Fitzpatrick. In fact, the Bucs have been very impressed the way Ryan Griffin has thrown the football during the first week of training camp.

Of course, the only cause for pause with Griffin in the first place is he has never thrown a pass in a regular-season game. The Bucs believe Fitzpatrick's experience would be of particular help to starter Jameis Winston, both on game day and in the meeting room.

"He's what I thought, a great guy. He really fits in the locker room," Koetter said of Fitzpatrick. "A really good guy for Jameis to bounce stuff off with his experience. He's learning a new system so that's a little bit difficult on him. He's been a nice addition so far, but we've got a real good competition going at that second quarterback spot right now.''

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