Bears' offseason makeover not limited to just defense

Bears' offseason makeover not limited to just defense
March 20, 2014, 5:30 pm
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The revolving door at Halas Hall the last 2 1/2 months hasn't been limited strictly to defense. We knew Devin Hester already was gone, and the record-setting kick returner found a new home in Atlanta Thursday in a three-year deal with a Falcons team that has been aggressive this season, looking for a quick bounce-back from a 4-12 campaign that followed a trip the NFC Championshp game.

Now, Eric Weems appears on his way out the door after ESPN first reported he'd refused a requested cut from the $1.6 million he was to be paid in the third and final year of his contract. The move provides just $1.1 million is salary cap savings as Phil Emery looks to carve up as much financial flexibility as possible.

The Falcons announced Hester's signing by also calling him a wide receiver, so it'll be interesting to see if head coach Mike Smith and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter can find a suitable role when Julio Jones, Roddy White and Harry Douglas aren't touching the ball, even though Tony Gonzalez is gone. It's something the Bears could not do during their wide receiver experiment with Hester, who wasn't competing with anything close to that kind of depth chart. Hester also was criticized via back channels as not having a good enough grasp of the playbook.

[MORE: Hester reportedly signs deal with Falcons]

It was Atlanta, ironically, that Weems established himself as a decent kick returner before the Bears signed him two years ago. But with Hester, he was rarely used in that role (one kick return in 2013 after 13 in 2012, as he either took kicks when opponents avoided, or he spelled, Hester, who slumped in that role two seasons ago).

Weems could have been a kick return option moving forward, but his departure now appears to open the way for wideout Domenik Hixon, who signed last week. Hixon, however, hasn't returned kicks and punts the last couple of seasons. The recently-released Earl Bennett was third on the club's season-ending depth chart at punt returner, while running back Michael Ford was listed as the backup kick returner, ahead of Weems.

[MORE: Briggs tired of losing Bears' 'brothers']

The only other present alternative for the Bears in the return game would be a reliance upon Chris Williams, the 5-foot-8, 175-pound former CFL player who has never played in an NFL game since coming out of New Mexico State five years ago, when he was a Biletnikoff Award finalist. He had a breakout season against Marc Trestman and the rest of the Canadian League in 2011 (Most Outstanding Rookie and All-Star), but nothing much since. Marquess Wilson, who's expected to become the club's third wide receiver, never returned kicks at Washington State.

While leading special teams tackler Blake Costanzo has essentially been replaced by Jordan Senn, Sherrick McManis and Craig Steltz - second and third in that category - were brought back this week. Weems and Anthony Walters were the only other Bears with double-digit special teams" tackles last fall, and their spots could essentially be filled by the newcomer safety pool of Ryan Mundy, Danny McCray and M.D. Jennings. In additon, punter/holder Adam Podlesh was among the first dismissed in this offseason of defensive and special teams change.