BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – When training camp started, the competition and competence of the candidates for long snapper was perhaps the leading question facing Bears special teams. After Friday night against the Philadelphia Eagles, that seemed to be one of the only areas that wasn’t a question.
A blocked field goal, a kickoff returned for a touchdown, three penalties on special teams, lackluster punt returns – those were among the issues afflicting a unit unaccustomed to problems.
Forget about who starts at safety or linebacker. Overall, the Bears are comfortable that they have enough talent available, and it is just a matter of choosing between goods.
After one game into the preseason, however, the question loomed as to who exactly can play special teams at a high enough NFL level.
“Yeah, we got to start finding out the guys who are going to play for us on Sunday,” said special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis. “There’s no question about that. It’s still an evaluation, but I think one of the things that wasn’t as good at the start of the year, if you watch our performance last year, we didn’t start out great, but then they came on in the last – after the fifth game – and really started playing well. We need to see the guys who are going to play on Sundays, and that’s our goal going forward and especially the third preseason game, we got to see those guys and they have to play together as a unit.”
Where Devin Hester was once a fixture even in lesser seasons, the Bears got just two fair catches from Eric Weems, two returns totaling two yards from Michael Spurlock and an injured hamstring from Chris Williams.
Williams was solid in the CFL but has never returned an NFL kick. Spurlock has averaged 24.2 yards on kickoff and 9.6 on punt returns but is 31. Weems averaged 23-plus yards on kickoff returns his three seasons before leaving Atlanta to sign with the Bears in 2012. Since then, in limited duty, he has averaged just 16 yards on 18 returns.
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Despite a Pro Bowl appearance in 2010 and being solid in kick coverage, Weems has not established himself as the hoped-for replacement for Hester.
“I think we know who he is as a cover player,” DeCamillis said. “I think what he didn’t have a chance to do here with Devin being here was as a returner which he did in Atlanta. So we’d like to get him more reps there obviously.
“He only had two fair catches the other night and on the kickoff return, I thought Philly did a good job of covering him. We really didn’t have a good gap for him there. We’d like to get some open spaces for him and see what he can do.”