The Bears have had consistently good special teams ever since head coach Lovie Smith came to the Bears. The hiring of special teams coordinator Dave Toub has really set Chicago’s special teams apart from the rest of the league, and their success there has been very solid.
With Devin Hester capable of returning punts and kickoffs for touchdowns, Corey Graham being a monster as the gunner on coverage, and Robbie Gould being near automatic on field goals, it’s hard to find a problem with this unit.
But there are some possible changes coming to this unit that may affect how things go for them next year.
I have discussed the change in kickoffs in the past and this will give the Bears less opportunity to return kickoffs (for touchdowns or for long distances) but with a special teams coordinator like Toub, the Bears are bound to come up with something to counteract this. He can use a strong combination of blockers up front to help spring Hester (or whomever they have returning kickoffs next season) loose to get them up the field and on towards pay dirt.
All they need is just a little slice of daylight and those return specialists can make something happen.
Punt returns will be handled by Hester again, and the Bears will continue to have an advantage there. While teams may choose not to punt to Hester (giving the Bears good field position) there is going to be that occasion where Hester gets his hands on the ball and gets into the end zone. It will be interesting to see how many times he reach the end zone next season.
A lot of what Hester does in 2011 depends on how much the Bears decide to use him on offense. So far, Chicago has failed to go after a true No. 1 wide receiver (with free agency pending) so Hester may have to have his role on offense (and the number of snaps he sees) stay the same—at least until someone else can step up and help scale those back.
The kicking game has been very consistent with kicker Gould kicking the ball for the Bears over the past few years. He’s been one of the most accurate field goal kickers in the NFL over that period of time. Granted, he may not have gotten the same number of chances to kick a field goal as some of the other kickers in the league, but when he gets a shot, he’s usually dead on.
So we shouldn’t expect any changes there next season.
Where we might expect a big change is at punter. While there are some people that don’t really consider the punter to be too critical of a position (or player) on the team, the punter is much more important than anyone really thinks they are.
The punter helps provide a team with field position if he is able to get the ball down where it needs to go (and if there is no significant return). Field position is a huge part of football so your punter is an important part of special teams and the team overall.
The Bears haven’t been as high on punter Brad Maynard as they were in the past, and just prior to the start of the NFL lockout the Bears brought in Richmond McGee to provide some competition in training camp or even take over as the Bear’s new punter. We must remember that Maynard is currently not under contract and may or may not be resigned when those not under contract can be resigned once the lockout ends.
It will be interesting to see what the Bears end up doing at the position this offseason.
So yes, there will be some changes on special teams this year heading into the 2011 season, but the unit should be able to keep up it’s solid play and production and remain one of the best (if not the best) special teams units in the NFL.