By Dan Durkin
(CBS) The Bears’ inability to find stability at the safety position under Lovie Smith is well chronicled. According to the Tribune’s Brad Biggs, the Bears have gone through 56 starting changes at the position. They’ve drafted a safety every year Lovie has been here, and have used a third round pick the last three drafts. I guess there isn’t safety in numbers.
Last season’s third round pick – Chris Conte – showed athleticism and toughness in 2011, but as a whole, his rookie year was exactly what you would’ve expected: up and down. In 2012, Conte needs to show improvement in run support, specifically with his pursuit angles.
Below are some illustrative examples utilizing the NFL’s Game Rewind “All-22” coaches film footage.
The first example comes from Conte’s first NFL start, a Week 6 matchup against the Minnesota Vikings. With 12:14 remaining in the third quarter, the Bears held a comfortable 26-3 lead, but the Vikings were driving and faced a 3rd-and-2 from the Bears’ 36-yard line.
The Vikings are in an “Ace” personnel grouping (2 TE, 2WR, 1 RB) with Adrian Peterson in the backfield. The Bears counter with their regular personnel “crowding the box” in a Cover 1 (Man Free) look with Conte 15 yards off the line of scrimmage:
The Vikings run a toss left with Peterson, and Conte begins what I would describe as a serpentine (S-shaped) path to the ball carrier at a full sprint:
Conte’s feet crossover twice in between the 25 and 30-yard line, creating a wide cutback lane to Peterson’s right:
Since Conte is coming in out of control on the play, Peterson is able to give a quick shoulder shake to the left and cut back to the right. Conte ends up falling down on the play, and Peterson scoots by for an easy first down on an eventual touchdown drive:
Luckily, the Bears possess enough team speed and hustle to pursue the ball carrier and make the tackle, but this is poor open field technique from Conte in run support.
The second example comes from the Bears Week 12 game against the Oakland Raiders. With 4:38 remaining in the third quarter, the Bears trailed 15-7, and the Raiders had the ball 1st and 10 at midfield.
The Raiders are in a “Jet” personnel grouping (4WR, 1RB) with Michael Bush in the backfield. The Bears countered with their nickel package (five defensive backs), showing a Cover 2 shell pre-snap:
At the snap of the ball, the Bears shift into a Cover 1 (Man Free) look, with Major Wright sliding up to cover the slot receiver, and Conte retreats as the single high safety:
The Raiders choose to run off right guard, but a cutback lane opens up to Bush’s left. After dissecting it’s a run, Conte heads downhill, running full speed parallel with the hash mark, instead of cutting off the angle:
By not cutting off the angle, Bush is able to make another cutback:
Conte finally makes contact after Bush has already gained 9 yards:
But Conte’s poor pursuit angle puts him at a momentum disadvantage, allowing Bush to carry him another 5 yards after initial contact, netting a 14-yard run, setting the Raiders up with 1st and 10 at the Bears 36-yard line on an eventual field goal drive making it a two possession game:
There were six weeks in between these two plays, but the same mistake was made. It is dangerous for Conte to over-pursue the ball carrier when he finds himself as literally the last line of defense in several defensive alignments. This is especially dangerous in a division featuring a running back like Adrian Peterson, and gifted open field runners at wide receiver, like Percy Harvin, Greg Jennings, and Randall Cobb.
I am optimistic about Conte’s future prospects, and hope that he used this offseason to work on his angle/path to the ball carrier, and his footwork to approach the point of contact balanced and under control, to ensure he is stout and reliable in run support.
Dan Durkin joined The Score’s columnist community after finishing runner-up in the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he was a member of the men’s football team (despite his best efforts to join the women’s team). Dan is a longtime Scorehead, known as Dan in Wicker Park – even though he no longer resides in Wicker Park – who will be sharing NFL analysis and opinions. You can follow Dan on Twitter @djdurkin. To read more of Dan’s blogs click here.