Last week, I ranked the best single season performances by the Chicago Bears offense under Lovie Smith … so now let’s take a look at defense and special teams.
Lovie has always been a defensive-minded coach, so it was hard to make a few of these selections (safeties excluded). You will find Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers and Charles Tillman on this list, but I think you will also find a few guys that you say, “Oh yeah, I remember that one-hit wonder.” So enjoy this trek through the best of Lovie’s past with the Bears since 2004. And I don’t mean to ruin it for all you Tim Shaw, Cameron Worrell, Jamar Williams and Corey Wooton fans, but none of them made the list. Sorry. Feel free to comment if I left anyone else out.
Punter: Brad Maynard (2008) – He was never known for having a booming leg but he always placed the ball where he wanted it. Maynard was able to drop 40 of 96 punts inside the 20 (only 5 touchbacks) and averaged 41.2 yards per punt. In addition, returners only averaged 5.6 yards per return, giving Maynard a 39.1 net yard average. Not bad for a 34-year-old.
Honorable Mention: Brad Maynard (2004) – Any time a punter is called to duty 108 times in a season, you know you are in trouble. He still averaged 42.9 yards per punt, netting a career high 39.6.
Kicker: Robbie Gould (2011) – Kicking off of the Soldier Field turf (or the Brown Monster as I like to call it) isn’t easy. Somehow Gould was 2-2 from 50+ yards and then went 4-4 from 50+ yards away from Soldier Field (career long of 57 in Denver). He finished the season 28-32 overall and hit all of his 37 XPs. Good as Gould, baby.
Honorable Mention: Robbie Gould (2006) – He set a Chicago Bears record, hitting 32 FGs (36 attempts), and connected on 47 of 47 XPs to boot. That all adds up to 143 points, just one shy of Kevin Butler’s Super Bowl season.
Punt Returner: Devin Hester (2007) – Why anyone kicked the ball to him after his rookie season, I’ll never know. This season he only had 4 punt return TDs and 651 punt return yards on 42 returns. And, if my memory serves me, he had a one or two TDs nullified by penalties. Truly a Ridiculous season.
Honorable Mention: Devin Hester (2010) – After two down seasons, he exploded back into the spotlight, averaging 17.1 yards per punt return and taking 3 to the house. Teams did their best to avoid him, but he was still able to rack up 564 yards on 33 returns, including 5 of over 40 yards. Welcome back, Ridiculous.
Kick Returner: Johnny Knox (2009) – Returning a kickoff 102 yards is quite a feat, but averaging 29.0 yards per return on 32 tries is equally as impressive. He also returned 23 for 20+ yards and was a bright spot in an otherwise dismal season.
Honorable Mention: Danieal Manning (2008) – One of the few KRs not named Hester to have a kick return TD, he established himself as a viable option on special teams averaging 29.7 yards per return, including 9 for 40+ yards.
Note: Devin Hester had some great kickoff return games in his day but never a great season.
Cornerback: Charles Tillman (2005) – He established himself as the Bears long-term answer at cornerback returning 5 INTs for 172 yards and 1 TD (95 yards). He batted down 16 passes and made the ball punch his signature move with 4 forced fumbles. Tillman was one of few Jerry Angelo draft picks that made a lasting impact for the Bears.
Cornerback: Nathan Vasher (2005) – He had one of the best seasons for a Bears DB (8 INTs), since Mark Carrier’s 10 INTs in 1990. His nickname “The Interceptor” seemed fitting at the time, but he only has 7 INTs since that season. I enjoyed the ride while it lasted though.
Honorable Mention: Charles Tillman (2010) – If it isn’t obvious that Tillman has been the best Bears cornerback for almost a decade, it should be now. In 2010, he picked off 5 passes, returning them 120 yards (not to mention 14 pass deflections) and forced 4 fumbles and recovered 3.
Safety: Ricky Manning (2006) – Under Lovie, Bears starting safeties have changed 56 times, so that’s why you may not even remember this guy. In his first season with the Bears, he had 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries, 2 stuffs, 10 pass deflections and returned 5 INTs for 113 yards and a touchdown. He even had a 4th quarter INT in the first round of the playoffs to help the Bears on their Super Bowl run.
Safety: Kevin Payne (2008) – Another safety you may not remember, Payne started 16 games for the Bears. He recorded 88 tackles, had 7 pass deflections, 2 stuffs, 1 sack and returned 4 INTs for 147 yards. Needless to say, his three-year career fizzled out fast after his sophomore season in 2008.
Honorable Mention: Chris Harris (2010) – His Bears homecoming was a success, when he racked up 70 tackles, 2 fumble recoveries, 7 pass deflections and 5 INTs for 69 yards. I still don’t know why Lovie never liked him. #whyloviebehatin
Linebacker: Brian Urlacher (2007) – One of his best pro seasons, he led the defense with 123 tackles, 5 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, 12 pass deflections and a career high 5 INT returns for 101 yards, including an 85-yard pick-6 against Green Bay. Respect.
Linebacker: Lance Briggs (2006) – Clearly one of Briggs best seasons, he recorded a career high 134 tackles, 10 for a loss, 4 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, 1 sack and 2 INTs. Is it any wonder the Bears finished 13-3?
Linebacker: Brian Urlacher (2010) – Making 125 tackles and 4 sacks at age 32 is quite impressive. Urlacher also showed that the previous year’s injury was completely healed with 2 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries, 1 INT, 10 pass deflections and 10 stuffs. His strong playoff performance against Green Bay (1 sack, 1 INT), was almost enough to make up for the loss of Cutler.
Honorable Mention: Lance Briggs (2005) – A prelude to his best season, he tore up opposing offenses with 107 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries and 2 INTs, one of which was a pick-6 against the Packers.
Defensive End: Julius Peppers (2011) – While he still hasn’t lived up to the lofty expectations we had for him, 11 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, 6 stuffs and 2 blocked kicks is pretty damn impressive. His consistency reigned supreme this season, recording at least 1 sack in 9 games.
Defensive End: Mark Anderson (2006) – He was unstoppable in his rookie campaign, recording a Bears rookie record of 12 sacks. He also forced 4 fumbles, had 1 fumble recovery and 3 stuffs in the regular season and 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble in the playoffs. What more could you ask of from a rookie?
Honorable Mention: Adewale Ogunyele (2005) – Having 10 sacks, 7 stuffs, 5 pass deflections, 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble recovery wasn’t as good as Bears fans were expecting (he had 15 sacks two seasons earlier), but it was still a solid season.
Defensive Tackle: Tommie Harris (2007) – He was quicker off the snap than any other player in the league and wound up with 8 sacks, 3 stuffs and 2 forced fumbles. It’s too bad he peaked at age 24.
Defensive Tackle: Tank Johnson (2005) – When he wasn’t toting guns around Chicago, he was slamming QBs to the ground. He finished the season with 5 sacks, 2 pass deflections and 2 stuffs. Not too many RBs dared run up the middle, at least not without a bulletproof vest.
Honorable Mention: Henry Melton (2011) – A pleasant surprise last year, he had 7 sacks (2 in the first game of the season), 4 stuffs and 24 tackles. His arrow is pointing up in the near future. Let’s hope he can stay healthy and on the field for a Bears defense that needs a strong guy in the middle of the defense.
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