To round out the Chicago Bears depth chart, we have the third phase, special teams. Coached by Dave Toub, the special teams unit has been the least of the Bears worries over the last half decade or so. The only big change here is the absence of punter Brad Maynard, which, if you read my article last year, should actually be a good thing. Let’s take a look at the specialists that the Bears are working with in 2011.
Kicker Robbie Gould: What can you say about a guy who ranks sixth all-time in both extra point percentage and field goal percentage for his career that he couldn’t say with his foot? He silenced some of his critics last year by making three of four 50+ yard field goals and raised his streak of consecutive extra point attempts made without a miss to 194. His kickoffs were also solid, nailing a career-high 16 for touchbacks (which should go up this year with kickoffs being moved up, from the 30 to the 35). All in all, it’s nice to see an accurate kicker (he has never missed a field goal attempt under 30 yards) coming back for another year.
Punter Adam Podlesh: Old Man Maynard is gone and the 28-year-old Adam Podlesh has arrived. While he doesn’t have the accuracy of Maynard, he can give the ball a good boot (43.8 yards per punt, 39.2 net yards per punt in 2010). Also, he has never had a punt blocked or returned for a TD. Oh yeah, did I mention that he runs a 4.44 40-yard dash? I see some fake punts in the Bears future…
Kickoff/Punt Returner Devin Hester: Even though Hester is listed as both the first string kickoff and punt returner, I can bet that Johnny Knox will see a good majority of kickoff returns. Especially with Knox working with the second team as a receiver, you know he will want to be out there in some capacity, if not as a receiver. Danieal Manning’s absence will hurt a little, but Hester and Knox are more than capable to do the job. Hester is coming off, arguably, his best season returning punts (17.1 yards per return, 3 touchdowns, 5 returns of 40+ yards, 0 fumbles). I have a feeling we are in for another ride this year. He won’t be letting any teams off the hook.
Long Snapper Patrick Mannelly: The man. The myth. The legend. He’s back for his 14th season. To be honest, it’s hard to remember him ever making a bad snap. (Please remind me if you can think of one.) He broke Steve McMichael’s record for games played as a Chicago Bear and he’s still going strong after 205 games. I think it is safe to say that he will be around as long as his arms work. And if you really love long snapping, check out Patrick in action, snapping footballs around Chicago.
Well, I hope our depth chart previews have you acquainted with some of the Bears who will be playing this Saturday against the Buffalo Bills. We are sure to see some shakeups afterwards. However, as far as specials teams goes, the Bears should continue their dominance (they’ve finished in the top third of the league for the past six seasons, according to Dallas Morning News ranking system) under the especially special, Dave Toub.