LAKE FOREST – Considering all Chris Conte has endured over the past seven months, perhaps the toughest part has been not being physically able to completely move on from his recent past.
Conte underwent offseason surgery to repair his right shoulder, forcing him to miss the Bears entire offseason program and most of training camp before being cleared to return on Aug. 10. At the same time, he was left to deal with a barrage of criticism leveled against him for his play in the Bears regular-season loss to the Packers. As much as he has tried to ignore outside opinion, constantly being reminded of his shortcomings made not being able to get back on the field even more difficult.
Coach Marc Trestman said Wednesday he expects the veteran safety to play Friday in Seattle. How much time Conte will see or what his role will be is yet to be determined. But after months of not being able to get onto the field, finally having his return only days away has finally brought Conte's stressful offseason to an end.
"It's been a long time coming," Conte said on Wednesday. "(It's) just been a lot of time watching other guys play. But I get the opportunity this week to just go out there and play football."
Conte has made 40 starts over the past three seasons. Even though he wasn't cleared until this month to return to the field, Bears coaches left the door open that Conte could again move back into a starting role even though the on-going competition between veterans Ryan Mundy, Adrian Wilson, Danny McCray and rookie Brock Vereen has gone on without him.
Even though it's still early on, Trestman said he likes what he has seen from Conte thus far.
"He's had a good week of practice," Trestman said. "He's running around. He's involved in terms of what we're doing. So we'll see. He's going to play (Friday)."
At times, Conte has found it difficult to remain engaged mentally, especially lately, when he felt like his body was ready for him to rejoining his teammates on the field. Despite remaining sidelined, Conte has been an active participant in the safety's meeting room, digesting defensive back coach Jon Hoke's game plan so he would be ready when he was physically able.
Conte has been vocal both in meetings and in the Bears' first two preseason games, helping his teammates along and lending advice where he can. Despite not being completely detached from his fellow safeties, remaining patient has been among the toughest parts of the Conte's recovery.
Still, his teammates are impressed with how Conte has kept himself in the game, albeit while doing it while being physically unable to go.
"It's been cool to see," McCray said Wednesday. "I know how it feels not to be able to practice and play and so it's good to see him get out there and get his feet back under him. It looks like he's moving pretty fast."
Conte's biggest test will come Friday against the Seahawks. Trestman is excited to see what Conte can show coaches that he is worthy of the considering they've given him to return to the Bears starting line-up. Physically, Conte insists he is ready, which he said will aid in mentally shaking off last year's struggles.
Asked on Wednesday if it's easier said than done to put last year behind him, Conte paused, considering his words.
"I don't know," Conte said. "It's just something where you just have to go out there and play football. I don't know if it's easy, hard or what, but it's just something you have to do.
"It's a different defense now and it's a new year and you have to treat it that way. I just have to try and get out there and do my job."