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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.

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Of the top 12 participants on special teams last season, it's probably fair to say only four are guaranteed to have roster spots in 2009. That's life on the bottom-third of the roster, where annual turnover mixes things up. The good news for special teams coordinator Dave Toub is that only one of the 12 players is guaranteed to be gone--linebacker Darrell McClover, whose contract expired. He remains a free agent. The better news for Toub is that he might get more out of defensive lineman Israel Idonije and linebacker Nick Roach.

Idonije saw his playing time on special teams drop from 63 percent in 2007 to 50 percent last season after bulking up. He's dropping to between 265 pounds and 270 pounds and will probably be called on more by Toub. Roach was eighth in special teams snaps with 224 but if Pisa Tinoisamoa wins the starting job on the strong side as expected, Roach would be freed up for more use by Toub. Perhaps he could be molded into another Brendon Ayanbadejo, the former captain and three-time Pro Bowl special teams player.

Linebacker Jamar Williams easily led the team in special teams participation but he's drawn some attention the last few weeks for his work on the field in the offseason program. That work will go a long way toward securing a roster spot for Williams, but that's no guarantee given the logjam the club has at the position now.

The Bears' special teams unit was eighth last season in the composite ranking system used by Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News. That came on the heels of consecutive first-place finishes. It was the team's fourth top-10 finish under Toub, who joined the staff in Lovie Smith's first season in 2004. Much of the reason given for the drop last year was the turnover and loss of Ayanbadejo. Losing special teams players is something that happens every year in every city. It's far too early to tell how the 53-man roster is going to shake out, but Toub figures to be in pretty good shape. The Bears consistently draft linebackers and defensive backs to stock special teams, and having an established system in place breeds familiarity if not success.

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We got an e-mail question Thursday evening asking about the production of Devin Hester, who made strides on the field as a wide receiver last season but saw a drop off in his production as a return man, ultimately relinquishing kickoff return duties to Danieal Manning.

"How much more did Hester play as a wide receiver in 2008 vs. 2007? I think the Bears took away from his explosive ability on special teams by taking his focus off of it. He was the most valuable player on the team. Now he's just another guy as a wide receiver and nothing distinguishes him as a returner. David N., Chicago"

That has been a popular question all offseason, and it's a subject we tackled with special teams coordinator Dave Toub at the OTA last week. First, let's take a look at the playing time numbers for Hester over the last two seasons in combination with his statistics:

2008

Offense--631 snaps

51 receptions, 665 yards, 13.0 avg., 3 TD
6 rushes, 61 yards, 10.2 avg.

Special teams--121 snaps

31 kickoff returns, 679 yards, 21.9 avg., 51 long
32 punt returns, 14 fair catches, 198 yards, 6.2 avg., 25 long

2007

Offense--226 snaps

20 receptions, 288 yards, 15.0 avg., 2 TD
7 rushes, minus-10 yards, minus-1.4 avg.

Special teams--182 snaps

43 kickoff returns, 934 yards, 21.7 avg., 2 TD
42 punt returns, 6 fair catches, 651 yards, 15.5 avg., 4 TD

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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.

Need No. 7--Strong safety

Players on roster

SS Kevin Payne (signed through 2010)
S Craig Steltz (2011)
S Glenn Earl (2009)

Need

Make no mistake about it, this is a big season for Payne. Entering the third year of his contract, he has the opportunity to play so well that the Bears will be motivated to talk extension with him at this time next year. If he doesn't play well, the Bears could be exploring new options come 2010. Payne played well at strong safety last season, which is where he started the year before a change was made to benefit departed veteran Mike Brown. Payne had double-digit tackles, including a season-high 15 on Oct. 19 vs. Minnesota--in six of the first 10 games before the move. Payne was out of position at free safety and the idea that the positions are interchangeable is a stretch. There are some durability concerns with him. He missed most of his rookie season with a broken arm that required surgery. He had shoulder surgery after this past season.

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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Plenty of football action already today, so we'll dive right into Four Down Territory.

Q: So I hear the Dallas Cowboys want Terrell Owens out of town. Either they cut him or trade him. I've heard speculation they could take as little as a third-round draft pick for him. Give me the odds of the Bears being players for his services.

James T., Charleston, Ill.

A: First, the Cowboys and Jerry Jones have to arrive at the conclusion that they're better off without T.O. than they are putting up with his antics and self-destructive behavior. Based on how Roy Williams played after Dallas paid a high ransom to get him from Detroit, that might be a tough decision to make. But Owens has become an unbelievably divisive force there, proof that problems ran much deeper than his run-ins with former wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator Todd Haley. That was the vibe you used to get, that T.O. didn't get along with Haley, which was dead on. Haley exited for Arizona in 2007 and T.O. has been at odds with everyone else since. What Jones is witnessing is the window of opportunity slowly closing on his team. He's moving into a shiny new $1 billion building and nothing sells quite like winning.

Popular opinion is growing that Owens will not be back in Dallas. Peter King weighed in on the issue Monday, writing "I think everyone doing free-agent lists should add one name in pencil: Terrell Owens. I'll bet you a month's worth of lattes he'll be free in six weeks." He's not the only national writer thinking that way. In fact, there are more who consider T.O. a goner than think he'll play with a star on the side of his helmet in 2009.

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.

TAMPA--When evaluating the season Devin Hester had, Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said expectations needed to be reshaped. Hester's record-setting first two seasons had to be put in perspective with him working as a full-time receiver because, as Angelo pointed out, never has an elite returner doubled as a No. 1 wide receiver.

Deion Sanders is here to say it can be done and Hester is the man to do it.

"He could do it,'' Sanders said in between Super Bowl XLIIII media day sessions Tuesday morning at Raymond James Stadium. ``You get the right personnel to block for him, sure he can. When I returned punts it wasn't that I was so great, it was the 10 guys in front of me were great and they were blocking their butts off. That's what made me who I was as a returner. That's the same as Devin in his previous years.''

Devin Hester had a forgettable season as a return man but that doesn't mean the Bears are coming out of 2008 empty-handed.

Danieal Manning has gotten some props.

While the Bears were shut out in the All-Pro balloting done by the Associated Press, the most widely used list, he earned first team All-NFL honors in balloting done by Pro Football Weekly and the Pro Football Writers of America.

Manning was chosen as the kickoff returner, the only Bear to make the list. When it came to all-conference teams, outside linebacker Lance Briggs joined Manning on the NFC squad selected by panelists.

We would be remiss if we didn't get to this ... kicker Robbie Gould was named the NFC special teams player of the month after hitting two game-winning field goals in overtime to carry the Bears into Week 17 with a chance to make the playoffs.

Gould was 8-for-8 on field goals in the month and finished the season connecting on 11 straight. It was the second such award for Gould in his four years as he also won in October 2006. He joined Hall of Famer and one-time Bear George Blanda (1975, Oakland), Norm Johnson (1990, Seattle) and David Akers (2000, Philadelphia) as the only kickers in league history to win consecutive games in overtime with field goals.

Gould finished the season 26-for-29 to break his own franchise record for accuracy in a season at 89.7 percent. He became the first Bears kicker to score 100-plus points in three consecutive seasons and is now fifth in franchise history in scoring with 470 points, trailing Blanda by 71 points. Having hit 85.9 percent of field goals in his career (110-for-128), Gould is the third-most accurate field goal kicker in league history trailing Mike Vanderjagt and Nate Kaeding.

Injuries took their toll on special teams in Monday's win over Green Bay and with the roster so thinned out as it is the Bears will bring back a familiar face.

Safety Cameron Worrell will sign a one-year contract in the morning and suit up for Sunday's game at Houston. He has spent the season in California rehabilitating a shoulder injury suffered in preseason with the New York Jets, who waived him injured in August. Worrell had an AC joint injury with Miami last season and it was made worse with New York, leading to surgery 13 weeks ago.

He came to town Wednesday night so he missed Christmas with his wife and two young daughters.

``I made my wife videotape Christmas and I'm looking forward to watching it,'' he said. ``It wasn't an easy decision and I wasn't really pursuing anything. With the Bears, I'm familiar with the system and I know what is expected. I've been through playoff games here and I know what is at stake.''

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