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 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 in Friday's preseason game in Seattle. How much time Conte will see or what his role will be has yet to be determined. But after months of not being able to get onto the field, having his return only days away has brought Conte's stressful offseason to an end.
"It's been a long time coming," Conte said 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 and the ongoing competition between veterans Ryan Mundy, Adrian Wilson, Danny McCray and rookie Brock Vereen has gone on without Conte, Bears coaches left the door open that he could again move back into a starting role.
Trestman said he likes what he has seen from Conte.
"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."
At times, Conte has found it difficult to remain engaged mentally, especially lately, when he felt like his body was ready for him to rejoin his teammates on the field. Despite remaining sidelined, Conte has been an active participant in the safeties' meeting room, digesting defensive back coach Jon Hoke's game plan.
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 whether Conte can show coaches that he is worthy of the consideration they've given him to return to the starting lineup. Physically, Conte insists he is ready, which he said will aid in mentally shaking off last year's struggles.
Asked Wednesday whether 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."