I completed an assignment for the Sporting News last week, and a portion of the file was to rank the Bears' draft needs from 1 to 19. Using the order I put together for the Sporting News, the NFL draft preview edition just hit newsstands with Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford on the cover, I'll do a daily breakdown here. For the purpose of getting every position covered before the draft begins April 25, I've combined the specialisits--kicker, punter, kick returner, punt returner and long snapper--into one category.
We'll begin with need No. 16 today and work our way up to the draft, having to double up on one day.
Need No. 16--Specialists
Players on roster
K Robbie Gould (signed through 2013)
P Brad Maynard (2010)
KR Danieal Manning (2009)
PR Devin Hester (2013)
LS Pat Mannelly (2010)
What the Bears really need here is for Hester to return to form after a bad slump in the return game in 2008. He averaged just 6.2 yards per punt return and had a long of 25. You've heard the Bears say two things this offseason and I am not sure if they are contradictory remarks or not. They've said they believe Hester can become a No. 1 receiver and they have said they may cut back on his time on offense just a little in order for him to regain his form as a return man. I'm not sure if both can be accomplished, we'll have to wait and see. Certainly wide receiver Earl Bennett is capable of returning punts. He had a touchdown last preseason at Seattle. Gould had a solid season as did Maynard, who set a franchise record with 40 punts inside the 20-yard line. Mannelly remains one of the best at his craft as he heads toward his 12th season. Manning led the league in kickoff returns last season and could be a target for a contract extension here at some point. It might not happen until the fall but it's worth keeping an eye on.
Who the Bears have been looking at
It's unknown what specific players the Bears could be targeting to participate in training camp. The team was represented earlier this week at a kicking combine in Reno, Nev. There are a handful of special teams scouting combines on the West Coast and the Bears have have hit all of them looking for help. With training camp rosters being limited last season, the Bears went to just one additional specialist, an extra punter. I'd expect that to happen again unless special teams coordinator Dave Toub can find someone who can do both--punt and kick. The Bears like to take it easy with Maynard, who has been hampered by hamstring and back issues in the past, and that makes sense.
Coming Sunday: Quarterback.