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If you're following the blog of Richmond McGee, the logical next logical step is for the Bears to have the free-agent punter take the roster spot created by the retirement of Glenn Earl.

The veteran safety Earl, a Naperville North and Notre Dame product, informed the team he plans to retire on Tuesday, and an official announcement will likely come today. Earl's departure drops the Bears' roster to 79 players, giving them one open slot. Although cornerbacks Charles Tillman will be placed on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) on Friday, it's the active PUP list teams can use in training camp. That will not create an additional roster spot.

Instead of bringing in an additional defensive back (the Bears have eight cornerbacks not counting Tillman and six safeties without Earl), the Bears could sign McGee. He believes the Bears are going to, at least at some point in the very near future.

"Nothing is official until I sign next month,'' McGee wrote on his blog. "But they are offering me a one-year contract.''

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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.

By the time training camp comes around the Bears will have a real good idea what their emergency punter list looks like for this season.

The team brought in two punters for a workout on Tuesday during the OTA at Halas Hall.

The Bears got a look at veteran Derrick Frost, who played in 12 games last season with Green Bay, and Richmond McGee, who spent last summer on Philadelphia's roster. Previously, Frost played three seasons in Washington and one year in Cleveland. Although he was primarily a punter at Texas, McGee handled some kicking duties as well and was a member of the Longhorns' national championship team. His versatility could be a plus in camp.

"A few teams have been calling about Derrick,'' his agent Bob Lattinville said. "I think since he's a known commodity he's a guy that will get picked up now.''

Frost had his best season in 2006 for the Redskins when he averaged 42.9 yards per punt and had a net of 38.9. McGee worked out earlier this offseason for the Buffalo Bills.

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The Bears have been able to find a quarterback, left tackle, left guard and strong-side linebacker with more ease than their search for a camp leg.

That hunt will continue today at Halas Hall as three punters will be in for a workout during the OTA. One of them is a familiar face--Zac Atterberry. He was the camp leg the Bears used last summer at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., and he performed well during the preseason. If familiarity is worth anything, perhaps he will have an edge over Louie Sakoda and Sean Douglas.

Atterberry averaged 41.5 yards on 10 punts during preseason and his net average of 39.5 ranked 11th in the league. The Bears trusted him enough that they brought him back on the practice squad in the week leading up to the Oct. 12 game at Atlanta because there was concern Brad Maynard would be out with an injury. Maynard turned out to be fine and Atterberry went on his way. Since, Atterberry has spent time on Washington's roster and he had a workout with Indianapolis last month.

Beating out the 13-year Maynard isn't the easiest way to make an NFL roster.

"Where I am at right now, I just need Zac in a camp,'' agent Rob Sheets said. ``Whether it's in Chicago, Indy, Washington or Tuscaloosa, I need him in an NFL camp and let the cards fall where they may. Zac's good enough to play in this league.''

With the addition of linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa to the fold on Friday, the Bears now have 80 players on their roster. Currently, only 78 of those players count against the 80-man limit because third-round picks Jarron Gilbert and Juaquin Iglesias do not officially count against the maximum until they are under contract. But the signing of seven draft picks and acquisition of Tinoisamoa took the Bears up to the limit as the remaining draft selections are expected to be signed soon.

That means to add another player the Bears will have to release someone. It's possible a few moves could shake out in the coming weeks. The team is expected to add a training camp leg by signing another punter to take some of the workload off veteran Brad Maynard. If the Bears were to target a veteran wide receiver, they would have to create room. The addition of Tinoisamoa gives the club 10 linebackers and it's unlikely they would take that many to Bourbonnais, Ill. At the end we've included how the Bears have constructed their 80-man roster.

*** The timing of Tinoisamoa's deal puts him in position to attend the remaining OTA's on the schedule. The Bears will resume the voluntary workouts Monday at Halas Hall and they will have four a week for three weeks before breaking for summer.

*** Signing seven draft picks in one day puts the Bears far ahead of every other team in that department. Entering Friday, San Francisco had been most successful in getting rookie deals done. The Niners had signed four draft picks.

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Do not be surprised if the Bears make a move to bring back punter Zac Atterberry.

They have been looking for a punter to bring to training camp and Atterberry was released Thursday by the Washington Redskins. He's a name that is sure to come up in conversations at Halas Hall based on how the team felt about him last season. Atterberry won a roster spot in a tryout of sorts last spring and went to training camp where he performed well.

Special teams coordinator Dave Toub liked him enough, or trusted him enough that Atterberry was brought back to the practice squad on Oct. 7. That wasn't to see how Atterberry had been in the six-plus weeks since he had been cut at the end of preseason. The Bears were concerned an undisclosed injury might prevent Brad Maynard from playing that week at Atlanta. The veteran turned out to be fine and Atterberry was let go after four days.

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)

Sometimes it is more difficult to stay on top of the mountain than it is to climb it.

The Bears' special teams unit discovered that in 2008 when sharp turnover within the core group and a dramatic slip by return man Devin Hester took a toll on performance.

Still, coordinator Dave Toub's unit managed to finish eighth in the NFL and third in the NFC in rankings that were published today by Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News. Gosselin is credited with beginning the formula, that ranks special teams units in 22 categories, in 1980 when he got it from Frank Gansz, then the special teams coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. He publishes the final results every year during Pro Bowl weekend.

We've successfully completed this mission about three hours earlier than Wednesday night. That's progress you can believe in. Let's dive right in.

Q: Why does Jerry Angelo downplay the importance of upgrading the Bears wide receiver corps, when it is so universally believed by virtually everyone else that the Bears will never have a playoff-caliber offense until they improve this unit? Does Angelo honestly believe what he is saying and if so, what does this say about Angelo's ability to recognize even the most obvious talent deficiency on the team he is in charge of overseeing?

Tom N., Dayton, Ohio

A: It's a fair question after the Bears missed on re-signing Bernard Berrian last year and made the decision to cut ties with Muhsin Muhammad. The position was as bad as it has ever been under Angelo in 2008 and without some steps to improve it, it's not going to get better. Having two solid pass-catching tight ends in Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen is good, having a running back in Matt Forte who has good hands out of the backfield is nice. They're not gamebreaking players as receivers, however. They're move-the-chains targets and as offensive coordinator Ron Turner has expressed on more than one occasion, it's hard to drive 70 or 80 yards without picking up big chunks from time to time.

You have to read all the way to the very bottom of the Associated Press' 2008 NFL All-Pro team to find a Bear.

That is because punter Brad Maynard was the only player who calls Halas Hall home to receive a vote from the national panel of national media members. He received one vote which was well-earned after what was arguably his finest season as a pro.

Maynard had 96 punts, second most in the league, and his net average of 38.1 was 11th. That's the second-highest net of his career. His 40 punts inside the 20 led the league and set a franchise mark, and he had only five touchbacks. Oakland's Shane Lechler received top honors.

The Bears' lone Pro Bowl representative, outside linebacker Lance Briggs, was shut out in balloting. Dallas' DeMarcus Ware collected 45 votes and Pittsburgh's James Harrison had 38 from the panel of 50 voters. Briggs was an All-Pro selection in 2005.

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