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The fake punt the Bears ran that backfired in an embarrassing way on Sunday at Green Bay is still in the playbook.

Leading 12-10 early in the fourth quarter, and facing fourth-and-11 from their own 26-yard line, the Bears tried a run up the middle by running back Garrett Wolfe, who is the personal protector on punts. Long snapper Pat Mannelly had counted 12 players on the field for the Packers, the play was to see if Wolfe could pick up the first down. Otherwise, the Bears would line up and punt again after a five-yard penalty.

"He saw 12 and there was 12,'' special teams coordinator Dave Toub said. "He turns around to tell Garrett. As soon as he turned, the guy [Clay Matthews] ran off the field. He didn't see him run off the field and he still thought there were 12. It's a no-brainer if there are 12. It's a first down or you kick it again.''

Mannelly, a 12-year veteran from Duke with a sterling resume, accepted full responsibility afterward for the error. The Bears challenged the play, but officials counted just 11, noting Matthews got off the field on time after the replay review. Toub said Wolfe should have been more aware also in the pre-snap communications.

"You just have to check it,'' Toub said. "Garrett has to check it as well. He could have checked it. It's something that is a rare thing, something we talk about but not something we sit out here and practice. Garrett could see it and make a call to alert Pat."

So, if 12 Steelers are on the field when the Bears line up to punt on Sunday, look for Wolfe to get the ball again. After a re-count, of course.

The Bears signed long snapper J.J. Milan this morning as a precaution and to get a look at someone with Pat Mannelly sidelined with a minor hip injury.

Mannelly underwent an MRI and the results were positive so there is not concern that he will miss a prolonged period of time. He's going into his 12th season and the opportunity to look at someone like Milan, in training camp and even in a preseason game or two, would give special teams coordinator Dave Toub a good evaluation in the event he has an in-season emergency. Mannelly has missed only three games in his career, the last coming in 2002.


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.

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)

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