One of the reasons I watched this game was because I wanted to do an in-depth evaluation of the Bears' Chris Conte and the Seahawks' Doug Baldwin. Baldwin, the free agent rookie receiver who is the Seahawks leading receiver, had only 1 catch on Sunday while Conte injured his ankle at the end of the first half. Still, I have seen enough of both of these players to write a strong opinion as well as some of the other rookies on both clubs.
Conte was the Bears third-round pick out of Cal. His first three years at Cal he played corner and then was switched to safety as a senior. Looking at him, he has the frame of a safety. He is tall, long and lean. The draftniks didn’t have a lot on Conte because of the position switch but the consensus opinion around the NFL was this was a player on the rise. I had one AFC scouting director tell me after the draft that they thought Conte may have been the best safety prospect in the draft. While Conte didn’t have the suddenness to play corner because of his size, he had ideal safety numbers. With his height, speed, range and length he was a perfect fit for free safety.
What you have to like about him is he has better man cover skills than most safeties because of his corner experience. Though he is tall, he turns well, has a burst out of his turn and can transition fairly quickly. He has the range to get to the sideline off the hash or from the middle of the field and he has good ball skills. Despite having a lean frame he is a top run defender who can attack the line of scrimmage and is a sure tackler. He made a couple of nice plays versus the run Sunday before he got hurt. The nice thing about Conte is he is a smart kid with good instincts and top football character. He will continue to improve as he gains experience and should give the Bears what they have been looking for: a ballhawking free safety for years to come.
Stephen Paea was the Bears' second-round pick out of Oregon State.
Paea was the Bears second-round pick out of Oregon State. He lacks great height at a little over 6-1 but he is very thick and extremely strong. He set the combine record for bench press reps (49) last February. Paea is not a starter but plays in the defensive line rotation usually as the backup 3-technique. What I like about him is his explosive first step. He is consistently able to get off the ball quickly, get penetration and disrupt running plays. He did this twice on plays in the red zone, once stopping the runner for a 4-yard loss and the other time making the runner adjust and then get hit for a loss. Paea is a top competitor who chases the ball, taking good angles with better than average speed. He is still a bit raw as a pass rusher, and while he is able to get a push he still hasn’t developed good counter moves. Still he uses his quickness and power to be disruptive with his ability to push the pocket. Overall, Paea has a bright future. He can play either defensive tackle position in the Bears scheme which bodes well for play time. He earns a B+ for his play Sunday.
Baldwin was an undrafted free agent out of Stanford and after a strong preseason has become the Seahawks slot receiver. To date he is Seattle’s leading receiver with 46 catches for 731 yards and 3 touchdowns. On Sunday he had 1 reception for 13 yards on a sideline route. While Baldwin is not a “burner,” he has great quickness and body control. He gets off the ball quickly and can make sharp cuts to get separation. He always seems in control. He has very good awareness on the field and does a good job uncovering versus both man and zone coverage. He is very sure-handed with a large receiving radius. He consistently catches the ball in his hands and shows top ability to adjust to poorly thrown balls. With his quickness and run instincts he is able to get yards after the catch. Overall, Baldwin was a great free agent pickup for Seattle; he looks to have the tools to be a consistently good slot receiver. He may lack the top-end speed to be as productive outside but in the slot he is a weapon.
Wright’s play as a rookie was one of the reasons the Seahawks were able to trade former first-round pick Aaron Curry. He has put up some impressive numbers as a rookie with 56 total tackles, 2 sacks and 2 interceptions. He has excellent size at about 6-3 and 245 and plays faster than he timed at the combine (4.75). Wright lines up at the SAM linebacker position and may eventually move inside to the Mike position. He has very good instincts, is quick to find the ball and plays a physical game. He has the athleticism to be effective in coverage, showing a quick drop and the ability to play both zone and man. He did a good job covering tight ends and backs in the flat on Sunday. He also showed good ability to either slip or shed blocks to make plays versus the run. He was credited with 8 tackles including at least 1 for a loss. He was always around the ball. He is used effectively as a blitzer and in the early part of the 3rd quarter he hit Bears quarterback Caleb Hanie just as he was throwing causing the ball to be intercepted and returned for a touchdown. That play effectively turned the game around! Overall, this is an exciting young player who makes plays. He easily earns an A+ for his play versus the Bears.