This time out I'll not only spotlight the three specialist positions on the Chicago Bears roster, but I'll also look at some of the special teams grades that Pro Football Focus gave out for the special teams. With long time coach Dave Toub gone, and new special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis taking over, we'll have to wait and see if the excellence of special teams will continue in Chicago.
Despite his lack of a return TD, Devin Hester still graded out with a +4.3 as a returner. That's only a bit off of his +4.9 that he scored in 2011, when he had 3 return TDs. Eric Weems had 13 kick returns and one punt return, and he graded out with a -2.2.
Weems made up for his less than stellar work as a returner, and he graded out the Bears best special teamer on the coverage teams with a +3.5. Other Bears with positive special teams grades were, Zackary Bowman (+2.5), Sherrick McManis (+1.5), and Julius Peppers (+1.5). PFF also had Bowman with nine solo tackles, tops on the Bears. Geno Hayes had the lowest special teams grade on the team with a -2.0.
Robbie Gould - Signed through 2013 - If you haven't already, it's time to put to rest any questions you have about Gould's leg strength. He went 2-2 from 50+ on field goals, his 69.8 average distance on kickoffs was 4th best in the NFL, and his 40.9% of returned kickoffs was the 5th lowest. Also on Robbie's 66 kickoffs, the average starting field position was the 19 yard line, which was 2nd best in the NFL.
It's really hard to get a bad grade as a kicker, but PFF had Gould graded 9th best at +26.9. It does go without saying, but Robbie Gould isn't going anywhere.
Adam Podlesh - Signed through 2015 - Podlesh didn't have as down a year as I thought. PFF had him way down at 28 with a +6.6 grade, but his numbers weren't that far off what he did last year. His net average was just a single yard less. His punts inside the 20 actually went up from 21 to 34, 5th best in the league, and punt returners only returned 30.9% of his punts, which was best in the league. And in something that really surprised me, the Bears only allowed 84 punt return yards on the season, which was best in the NFL. That is both a testament to Adam's directional punting, and the punt coverage team.
Patrick Mannelly - Signed through 2013 - Mannelly will be a Bear for as long as he chooses to be a Bear. He was money on all his snaps again, and he chipped in with a couple tackles on the punt team.
Olindo Mare - Free Agent - Mare had to be happy when the Bears gave him a call for a tryout when Gould was placed on injured reserve, and he performed ok. Look for the soon to be 40 year old kicker to try and catch on somewhere in 2013.
2013 OUTLOOK - I expect no changes to this Triumvirate of Tremendous Special Teams Skills.
In the coverage units, as happens every year, there will be some turnover. A healthy Brandon Hardin has the speed / strength combo to be a productive special teamer.