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Bears’ Chris Conte faces increased expectations in his third year

Bears' Chris Conte intercepts first ball thrown during 2013 Bears' training camp Friday morning Bourbonnais. | Michael R. Schmidt~ For

Bears' Chris Conte intercepts the first ball thrown during the 2013 Bears' training camp Friday morning in Bourbonnais. | Michael R. Schmidt~ For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 30, 2013 8:57PM



Third-year safety Chris Conte intercepted Jay Cutler on the first 11-on-11 play of training camp and had a diving, last-split-second pass breakup in practice Monday.

‘‘Yeah, it was pretty nice. But I should have intercepted it,’’ he said of the deflection. ‘‘Always room for improvement, right?

Absolutely, and especially where Conte is concerned. The former third-round pick from California wasn’t bad for a rookie in 2011 and pretty good for a second-year player last season. Now he needs to be more than that.

For the Bears to avoid a sudden drop-off whenever the remaining 30-and-over defensive core — Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman — diminishes, players such as Conte and strong safety Major Wright are going to have to reach a higher level.

‘‘I think more is expected of me this year, becoming more of a veteran guy,’’ said Conte, who started nine games as a rookie and 15 last season. ‘‘I have to be a little more responsible and have it together on the field and be prepared to help the younger guys out.’’

Timing is Wright

If not for Conte’s hamstring injury that forced him to miss the final game of last season, the Bears would have had the same starting safeties for every regular-season game for only the second time in Lovie Smith’s nine years as coach.

Nonetheless, the Wright-Conte duo gave the Bears some continuity at safety to build on. Smith changed starters at either safety position 41 times in nine years.

It’s a key year for Wright, one of 43 players in the final year of his contract.

‘‘I’m not worrying about my contract,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s just another year for me where I have to prove that I can play this safety position.’’

Wright said he will play with a sense of urgency but without putting too much pressure on himself — if that’s possible.

‘‘I’m playing like it’s my last down every play. I’m giving it my all,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s my mind-set — have fun and don’t be uptight. It’s about having fun in the game of football.’’

Roster watch

The Bears agreed to terms with 6-4, 255-pound defensive end Josh Williams, who played last season at Kansas after three years at Nebraska. He would replace defensive end Turk McBride, who suffered a season-ending Achilles injury Monday.



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