Over the past 10 seasons, Chicago Bears fans have been spoiled. The Bears have been among the top five specialty unit teams in the NFL for a decade and we’ve all taken it for granted.
Devin Hester is the greatest return man in the history of the NFL and he did it all as a Bear over eight seasons.
Now, due to the salary cap and the Bears' reluctance to devote a roster spot to a specialist without a position on offense or defense, Hester is an Atlanta Falcon.
Patrick Mannelly is one of the best long snappers in the history of the NFL and is now retired and beginning a career as an all sports talk show host on 670 the SCORE.
The Bears top seven special teams tacklers last year in order were Blake Costanzo, Craig Steltz, Sherrick McManis, Eric Weems, Anthony Walters, Dante Rosario and Michael Ford. All but McManis and Rosario are gone.
Through an entire offseason, training camp and three exhibition games the Bears have found no answers.
Is it just a bit disconcerting and unusual to be this uncertain about your special teams this close to the season? Special teams coach Joe DeCamillis takes the high road.
“I’m glad it’s happening now instead of during the season to be honest with you. Looking at it from the positive viewpoint is, we’re getting things that we don’t want to have happen during the regular season. We can identify them and we can correct them. Sometimes you get a false sense in the regular season going in to where you’re not sure where the problems are coming from. I think our guys will rally to it and we’re going to get better. I’m going to coach them better.”
The problem is if they don’t have the talent to get it done.
Chris Williams was signed off the Saints practice squad after starring as a return man and receiver in Canada. He looked good at receiver early in camp, but before we could even see him return kicks he pulled a hamstring on a 73-yard catch and run against the Eagles.
DeCamillis was asked who his kickoff return man would be in the final exhibition in Cleveland.
“Well, obviously we’d like to see Chris Williams, see what he can do Senorise (Perry) took a couple of reps last week, which were positive — I think he averaged 25.7," DeCamillis said. "Those two are probably the ones who are going to get most of the reps on kickoff return.”
If Williams can return at the NFL level, can the extremely undersized 5-foot-8, 170-pound receiver stay on the field?
Perry is an undrafted rookie free agent running back out of Louisville, who only makes the team as a running back if the Bears cut Ka’Deem Carey or Tony Fiammetta, which isn’t likely to happen.
The Bears don’t want a returner without a position.
“Yes, Chris (Williams) would be in the equation, along with Micheal Spurlock, and Spurlock is also in the equation on kickoff return, too, by the way,” DeCamillis said when asked who the favorite was.
There’s no way Spurlock makes the team as anything more than a fifth wideout, even that’s unlikely if the Bears carry five, and Williams is now pretty much in the same boat.
What will the Bears do on coverage?
The Bears are clearly planning on potential starters Chris Conte, Ryan Mundy, Danny McCray, Kyle Fuller, Shea McClellin and Jon Bostic to answer the bell in coverage.
While it’s not unusual to have a couple starters covering kicks, that many would be almost unheard of.
There are two questions here that beg answers from either Phil Emery, Marc Trestman or both. The first is what really was the plan and why it is so unsettled so late in the game.
The second is, is it possible the problem is that the bottom third of this roster, where your core special teams folks should come from, isn’t as talented as it was one, two or three years ago?
We don’t have the answers yet, but you certainly have to ask.
• Chicago Football editor Hub Arkush can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.