The Chicago Bears special teams is... well, special. Since Dave Toub has arrived in 2004, the Chicago Bears have ranked in the top eleven every year in overall special teams. After being No. 1 in back-to-back years (2006 and 2007) the Bears finished eighth this season.
(Note: This is according to Rick Gosselin from the Dallas Morning News. For his rankings this season check out: http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/spt/misc/weekend/stories/020809dnspospecialteamslede.38f0fd2.html)
Some of the success has to be attributed to the rise (and slight fall this year) of Devin Hester.
But Gosselin uses a number of different statistics to come up with his overall ranking including: kick returns, punt returns, kickoff coverage, punt coverage, starting point, opponents starting point, punting, net punting, punts inside the 20, opponent punting, opponent net punting, points scored, blocked punts, blocked kicks, and a laundry list of other statistics.
Despite falling to eighth this year, the Bears special teams still led the league in two categories. Props to Brad Maynard who had the most punts inside the 20-yard line this past season with a total of 40. And the Bears recorded the most blocked kicks with four.
In 2007, the Bears finished first in scoring, kickoff starting point, kickoff coverage and blocked kicks. Second in punt returns and field goals, and third in punt coverage. They also were ranked in the top five in opponent punting and opponent net punting.
Overall they ranked in the top ten in 13 out of the 22 categories in '07.
But what does this all mean? Before Hester arrived, the Bears were ranked 11th. Doesn't that mean that Hester is the reason for all this?
Well, in short, partially. Hester is a game changer. There is no question that he was the reason that they had such impressive stats in terms of points scored, punt return average and kickoff starting position. Devin Hester is the most dangerous return man of all time.
That said, look at the past two season and you will see the Bears were ranked very highly in other places as well.
Blocked kicks has little to do with Devin Hester. Eight in 2007 and four in 2008, both to lead the league, speaks volumes about the effort that the players are putting into it. Robbie "Good as" Gould's effectiveness has nothing to do with Hester. Neither does Maynard's 40 punts being downed inside the 20-yard line.
While the coverage was not as impressive this season as last, the simple fact is the Bears special teamers WANT to be there. Third string running back Adrian Peterson has carved himself a niche on special teams.
Patrick Mannelly is, in my mind, the best long snapper in the NFL. Maynard won the MVB (Most Valuable Bear) award a couple times (I am not sure whether this has to do with how great he is or how bad the Bears were during that stretch, but nevertheless, it is still impressive).
The best part is of course, that all the players on special teams are traditionally back ups and role players. Israel Idonije is a monster. Standing 6'6" and 297 pounds, Idonije is a model of what the Bears special teams is all about.
He fills in at any position, he has blocked four kicks in his career and there was talk during last season to move him to the gunner position on punts.
Can you imagine an agile, 6'6" 300 lb animal charging at you full speed while you, the punt returner, wait for that football to land in your arms? Talk about a distraction.
Or look at the effort and how it has paid off.
Garrett Wolfe, Brandon Lloyd, Zachary Bowman, Devin Hester, and Danieal Manning all scored on special teams last season. It was Lloyd, Bowman, Manning and Wolfe's first touchdowns with the Bears. Shoot with the exception of Lloyd, it was their first touchdowns ever.
And the man responsible for the better play, the higher energy, the fact that every player on special teams takes pride in their jobs, is Dave Toub. When he was a coach with the Eagles, they took the title for best special teams units twice.
That makes four times in eight years. Talk about consistency.
Toub has made players proud to be on special teams. It is a mentality that he brought with him from the Eagles and has struck home in Chicago, and that makes him arguably the best coach on the entire Chicago Bears staff (I know, that doesn't necessarily say much).
So today, I tip my cap and raise my glass to you Dave Toub. I look forward to another season where you will be the only coach on the entire team who I do not curse at continually. Thank you.