Recently in Special teams Category

Brandon Lloyd and Marty Booker ran with the first team at wide receiver Wednesday when Devin Hester was absent.

Today, the Bears will go through punt return drills for the first time.

Nathan Vasher, you're up. The veteran cornerback will be the first to field punts. He's been a backup for Hester the last two seasons. While he's yet to return a punt in a regular season game, he did return one during preseason last year. Vasher was an All-American choice as a punt returner at Texas in 2001 and holds some Longhorns records, a proud distinction considering he followed Eric Metcalf at the school. Metcalf is one of the best returners in NFL history.

Repeating as the NFL’s top-ranked special teams unit apparently wasn’t enough to get Bears coach Dave Toub honored for a second straight season.

San Diego Chargers special teams coach Steve Crosby will be honored as the special teams coach of the year Tuesday at a banquet in Nevada by Professional Kicking Services, Inc. Toub took home he hardware from the event last year.

Perhaps the voters—the special teams coaches themselves—figured Toub had plenty of advantage with Devin Hester, who is on pace to shatter scoring records for special teams after only two seasons. How else do you explain the coach of the top unit not winning?

Tying together the loose ends from another busy offseason day even if the Bears did not sign any free agents Thursday ...

Wide receiver Marty Booker, fresh off a Jamaican vacation, checked in on a conference call. Some highlights:

Q: What are your thoughts on returning to the Bears?

A: It’s good to be back. Plus, No. 1 it’s good to have a job. For a point there I was pretty worried about whether it was going to happen or not. To finally have a job and to be back with the team I started with is awesome.

Q: What do you make of the quarterback situation?

A: I’m not too familiar with Kyle [Orton], I’m pretty familiar with Rex [Grossman]. My understanding, I am thinking it will be an open competition and whoever wins the job is going to have it. No matter who is in there, I will be supportive of whoever, just going out there and trying to make plays. That’s pretty much all I know right now, how it’s going down.

Brendon Ayanbadejo received some good news from Minnesota on Wednesday.

While it’s unlikely the Vikings are planning to earmark any of their reported $30 million in available salary-cap space on the two-time Pro Bowl special teams performer, Ayanbadejo can take heart in the tender the team made its special teams ace Heath Farwell, who is a restricted free agent.

Minnesota tendered Farwell a one-year offer for $1.417 million, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Farwell is free to negotiate with other teams, but the Vikings would receive a second-round draft pick in compensation if they chose not to match an offer. In other words, Farwell is staying put. It bodes well for Ayanbadejo because it’s evidence a team is willing to pony up good money for a special teamer and reserve linebacker.

INDIANAPOLIS—The Bears wasted little time in filling their coaching vacancy.

Chris Tabor will sign a contract later today as the new assistant special teams coach, replacing Kevin O’Dea, who left Wednesday to become the special teams coach for the New York Jets.

Kevin O’Dea didn’t waste any time getting started as the special teams coach for the New York Jets.

Head coach Eric Mangini called to tell him Tuesday he was hiring him, that the contract would be signed in Indianapolis at the combine. O’Dea, who assisted Bears special teams coach Dave Toub the past two seasons, got some congratulatory calls from long snapper Pat Mannelly, punter Brad Maynard and kicker Robbie Gould, and was out the door to the combine.

He interviewed kickers, punters and long snappers tonight at the combine, getting back to his hotel room after 11 in Indianapolis. He’ll be driving to New York from there on Friday.

The Bears just got some more work to do this weekend at the combine.

They need to replace an assistant coach as Kevin O’Dea, the No. 2 special teams coach, has left to take over the top position with the New York Jets.

The Bears are No. 1 again.

While far from that lofty position in the standings, the team ranked tops again in the league in special teams in the rankings released today by Dallas Morning News football writer Rick Gosselin.

Gosselin has been crunching the numbers since 1980 when he got the formula from Frank Gansz, then the special teams coach for the Kansas City Chiefs and later their head coach.

The teams are ranked from 1 to 32 in 22 categories ... getting one for being the best and 32 for being the worst. The Bears wound up with 236.5 points, 5.5 ahead of San Diego. It’s the second consecutive year Dave Toub’s unit has finished on top, in large part due to return man Devin Hester, who will compete in the Pro Bowl later today along with special teamer Brendon Ayanbadejo.

GLENDALE, Ariz.—The second to final game of the season will go down later today at University of Phoenix Stadium in Super Bowl XLII.

The Pro Bowl will conclude the 2007 season next Sunday in Honolulu. Bears linebacker Lance Briggs (hip) and defensive tackle Tommie Harris (arthroscopic surgery on his left knee) have backed out of the all-star game, but return specialist Devin Hester and special teamer Brendon Ayanbadejo will be there to represent the organization. Maybe Hester can pick the brains of some of the best receivers in the game while he is there and get a few plays in on offense.

It’s expected that Briggs has played his final game wearing a Bears helmet. Agent Drew Rosenhaus said last week that it was simply a precautionary measure for Briggs to remove himself from the game. He expects his client to be in top shape when free agency opens Feb. 29, and he’ll have to pass a physical to get the big-money contract he has been seeking.

The Bears must have liked what they saw in punter Glenn Pakulak the first time they had him in because he’s back.

The club signed him to a reserve/future contract on Tuesday.

Pakulak was in a group of a half-dozen punters that were worked out when the team signed Dirk Johnson as a temporary replacement for Brad Maynard on Sept. 16. Maynard had a balky groin, and the team chose Johnson while also taking a look at Pakulak, Scott Player and Danny Baugher.

Return specialist Devin Hester was voted to the Associated Press' All-Pro team for the second time. Hester scored an NFL record six touchdowns on returns this past season, four on punts and two on kickoffs.

Upon review, unofficial special teams rankings had the Bears first entering Sunday ahead of San Diego and San Francisco.

Brad Maynard’s four punts inside the 20 should help them. The official numbers are crunched by the Dallas Morning News’ Rick Gosselin, who created the complex ranking system that counts 22 categories.