At least in the early going, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are using this year's free agency period to add depth and competition to every level of their defense.
On Thursday, the Buccaneers announced the signings of two more players: safety Chris Conte and defensive tackle Henry Melton, both of whom agreed to one-year deals. Those moves come about 20 hours after the team inked Bruce Carter to help stabilize its linebacking corps. While Carter had experience playing in a defense similar to the one run by Lovie Smith's Buccaneers, Conte and Melton are one degree closer: They both played under Smith with the Chicago Bears.
In fact, both Melton and Conte boast some of their best work while playing for Smith. A fourth-round pick by the Bears in 2010, Melton recorded 29 of his 35 career starts during the 2011-12 seasons – the last two of Smith's nine years in Chicago – and racked up 13 sacks in that span. He was selected to play in the Pro Bowl in 2012. Conte, a third-round pick in 2011, became a full-time starter in 2012 and contributed 52 tackles, two interceptions, nine passes defensed and a fumble recovery.
Photos of new Tampa Bay Buccaneers DT Henry Melton from his time with the Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears (AP Photos).
Melton (6-3, 280) spent the 2014 season as Carter's teammate in Dallas, serving under Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli, a former Buccaneer assistant who worked alongside Smith during the late 1990s. Despite starting just three games, he pitched in with five sacks, four passes defensed and two fumble recoveries. He should join with two-time Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy and valuable 2014 free agency addition Clinton McDonald to give the Buccaneers one of the most dynamic defensive tackle rotations in the NFL.
In five seasons, Melton has started 35 of 64 games and recorded 20.5 sacks, five passes defensed, three forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. He played his college ball at Texas, first arriving in Austin as a running back before converting to defensive end.
Photos of new Tampa Bay Buccaneers S Chris Conte from his time with the Chicago Bears (AP Photos).
Conte (6-2, 197) joins a safety group that was in flux for much of the 2014 season, in part due to the trade of former first-round pick Mark Barron to the St. Louis Rams. Four different players made at least five starts at safety for the Buccaneers last fall, and Smith has said that a team rarely makes it through the season with just two starters at that position.
Conte played in 57 of a possible 64 games over his four seasons with the Bears, starting 52 of them. His contributions during that span included 180 tackles, nine interceptions, 21 passes defensed, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. He played collegiately at Cal, where he spent much of his time as a cornerback before switching to safety as a senior. He took to the position so well that as a senior he won first-team All-Pac 10 honors.