Chicago Sun-Times

5 days to Camp: The names change, special teams remains same

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We come to our second to final position-by-position breakdown as we close in on packing our bags and heading to Bourbonnais, Ill., and the campus of Olivet Nazarene University. This morning we target special teams.

Projected starters: K Robbie Gould, 6-0, 185, 5th season, Penn State; P Brad Maynard, 6-1, 188, 13th season, Ball State; LS Pat Mannelly, 6-5, 265, 12th season, Duke; KR Danieal Manning, 5-11, 202, 4th season, Abilene Christian; PR Devin Hester, 5-11, 190, 4th season, Miami.

2009 salary cap numbers

Robbie Gould $2,905,200
Devin Hester $6,885,833
Pat Mannelly $962,200
Danieal Manning $885,200
Brad Maynard $1,392,280

Number of specialists on the roster at the start of the 2008 season: 3

Projected number of specialists on 2009 roster at start of the season: 3

The skinny: The Bears didn't get the kind of electric scores they grew accustomed to from Hester, but they still scored on special teams in 2008. Manning ran back a kickoff for a touchdown, Brandon Lloyd and Garrett Wolfe both scored on blocked punts and Zack Bowman scored on a muffed punt. Alex Brown also blocked a 38-yard field goal try by Green Bay's Mason Crosby in the Week 16 meeting with 18 seconds remaining in regulation. The Bears went on to win in overtime. So, it's not like Dave Toub's unit was without major contributions. No one can pinpoint exactly why Hester lost his edge in the return game. He averaged 21.9 yards on kickoffs where he saw about every gimmick imaginable and was worse on punts, averaging only 6.2 yards. There are a handful of theories, all of them probably valid in part. The biggest reason is pretty simple--Hester got a lot more work on offense and that took away from his return game. The stats certainly support that thinking. Hester was on the field for 631 offensive snaps last season vs. 226 in 2007. He had 121 special teams snaps in 2008 vs. 182 in 2007. Another key factor to consider is the turnover the Bears had on special teams. Playing without Pro Bowl special teamer Brendon Ayanbadejo for the first time, Hester's return units lacked the mojo they had enjoyed previously. Ayanbadejo wasn't just a tremendous player, he was a leader and knew when the group needed an infusion of energy.

Still, special teams remained solid and wound up finishing eighth in the composite rankings compiled by Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News after back-to-back No. 1 finishes. Manning would have been the NFC's Pro Bowl return man if he would have been promoted before the Nov. 16 game at Green Bay. He led the league in kickoff returns at 29.7 yards, and his success may lead opponents to approach him differently this time around. The coverage teams were solid but not as good as they have been in the past.

Kicker Robbie Gould finished the season making 11 consecutive kicks. He was 18-for-18 inside 40 yards and 26-for-29 overall. His kickoffs were stronger through the course of the season. Gould has still yet to make a 50-yard field goal but there have not been many chances where Lovie Smith opted to punt when a long field goal was a real option. Punter Brad Maynard is coming off one of the better seasons in his long career, setting a personal and franchise high last year with 40 punts inside the 20-yard line and only five touchbacks.

Wolfe was the top tackler last season and really blossomed in the role. Linebacker Jamar Williams had far more special teams snaps than anyone else on the roster and will need to be more effective in that role this season. Corey Graham could be expected to notch 15 or more tackles.

Quite simply, Mannelly is the most consistent performer on the roster.

The upside: Hester returns to form on punts, Manning continues to excel on kickoffs and a great debate ensues--which Bears' return man should go to the Pro Bowl? Perhaps more importantly, Toub finds himself a special teams demon to take the role of Ayanbadejo when Nick Roach, forced out of a starting role on defense by Pisa Tinoisamoa, steps forward to lead the unit.

The downside: Hester remains lost on punt returns and surrenders the job to Earl Bennett, who proves he can't multitask either when it comes to being a starting receiver and returning kicks. Maynard's occasionally achy hamstring flares up.

On the hot seat: Joey LaRocque. The seventh-round pick was elevated to he 53-man roster for Week 3 last season and played a key role on special teams, but that is the only place the linebacker was involved. Toub usually gets one player at the end of the roster that he can hand pick to help his units, and the squeeze could be on LaRocque this time around. A lower back injury kept him out of much of the offseason program and with the addition of rookie Marcus Freeman, it's going to be tough for him to make the cut.

Final thought: Toub has proven to be one of the more consistent position coaches the Bears have had in some time when it comes to production by his group. What makes that impressive is the turnover special teams faces on a year-to-year as well as a game-to-game basis. There's been plenty of hand wringing over Hester's slump last season but that is only because he spoiled the Bears with the greatest back-to-back seasons by a return man in the history of the game. The Bears should still be solid even if Hester isn't visiting the end zone on occasion.

Previous previews:

Quarterback

Defensive end

Running back

Defensive tackle

Fullback

Linebacker

Offensive line

Cornerbacks

Tight ends

Safeties

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9 Comments

Dave Toub should be the next head coach of the Chicago Bears.

Toub is by far the best coach on the Bears. The traditional thinking is that Toub would have to go through the various positions and then defensive coordinator before getting the head coaching job. In addition you have to love the year to year consistent production and the fact that the special teams units are always exceptional and motivated, even when they do not have the exceptional talent.

Thetombofhalas, may have something here. I could support Toub as the next head coach.

Great leaders don't always have to go the traditional route to the big job, as an example just look at some of America's great presidents historically that have flourished despite questionable background experience. The last four presidents do not have enough time historically to truly evaluate their impact to the U.S and world. I am saying the great presidents that preceded the last four.

Toub for Bears Coach maybe in the next election, if there ever was one. McCaskey's put it to a vote?

One last comment for Toub.

He would most likely be a great defensive coordinator and should be given an opportunity for this responsibility.

Agreed.. Toub is a mastermind. Hester's dismal punt returns last year were not his fault. Granted the new coverage/blocking teams took some time to gel, but Devin was just not being smart. Gotta get north first before you do the east-west jig. He was jigging first and then getting walloped. Just look at Manning's return style.. its 100 mph dead ahead and then he looks to shoot a gap. Manning runs angry. I like that. If Toub gets a big season out of the return game again, somebody will hire him away from us.

The Toub rules. Intresting thought on Ayanbadejo and Toub. Toub was trained as a special teams coach in Philly by one of the best special team coaches in football John Harbaugh. Harbaugh has always spoken highly of Toub and has even stated he is a better Special team coach than I was. Harbaugh was considered the best Special team coach in football at the time but was never given a shot to be a head coach because a lot of teams look down on special teams coaches. Harbaugh was promoted to the secondary coach in Philly. He did a nice job there and is now the Head coach for the Baltimore Ravens. In his first year as head coach with a Rookie QB he managed to make the playoff's and give PIT everything they could handle in the playoffs. When the Bears decided Ayanbadejo was not worth the money it was Harbaugh who signed him and Harbaugh that told him your my guy on special teams now. Ayanbadejo had another Pro Bowl year. I hope the Bears give Toub a shot as a position coach. Because if they don't you know Harbaugh will grab him in a second. Toub has future head coach written all over him.

I doubt Lovie will give Toub a job as a position coach. Not because he doesn't think Toub would be good at it. But because he actually does value Special Teams and knows Toub has bailed him out more than once. You can count on the Bears special teams which is more than you can say for the rest of the team. Last year this unit saved at least 2 games for the Bears and helped keep them in a dozen others.

Only 4 posts for the Toub I see, as usual to many Bear fans ignore the man. It's really a crime.

Toub should be the next head coach of the bears,its a no brainer! unfortunatly no brainers run the bears.Good luck for the uocomming season

Toub is da man. He is as under-appreciated as front office man Cliff Stein.....

I guess there really isn't much to say. Brad hits it on the head. Special Teams is the only reason why an otherwise mediocre team with offensive and defensive stats ranking in the 20s can be in playoff contention. None of us want a new kicker, punter, long snapper, or kick returner; we got some of the best in the business.

Trying to hang onto Dave Toub no matter what would be good policy for the Bears, I would venture to say, more so than trying to hanging onto Devin Hester. The only reason why Hester is being driven to become a number 1 receiver, and consequently becoming less of a ST threat, is because the Bears don't have any productive receivers. That is so sad. We may be getting those blocked punt scores and game-winning blocked field goals, but we really do miss RIDICULOUS!

I think most Bear fans know who Dave Toub is but you really have to be an NFL fan to realize just how incredible of a job this guy does. Special Teams really gets overlooked in the NFL. Every casual fan loves the big return guys like Devin Hester but have no idea what goes into the return and coverage teams. It's a huge responsibility (I'm looking at you Tony Romo) for everyone involved. On top of it, you are working with seemingly a different set of guys each season (or sometimes WEEK) that you have to coach, manage and get the most of their performance. Hell Toub has excelled with Hester, sure. But Manning, Vasher, even Bobby Wade for the love of God have all scored TD's! Sure having Hester helps but this guy has put together some of the best return and coverage units in the league for years.

The hell with the buddy system, Toub needs to be looked at as a coordinator or head coach.

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This page contains a single entry by Brad Biggs published on July 26, 2009 5:24 AM.

6 days to Camp: Some off the radar players to keep an eye on was the previous entry in this blog.

Pass happy: Just how many wins is Jay Cutler worth for Bears? is the next entry in this blog.

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