Bears position battles: Critical chances at returner spots

Bears position battles: Critical chances at returner spots
August 19, 2014, 4:45 pm
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The Bears thought enough of Chris Williams to sign the former CFL receiver/returner to a contract just days before the end of last season and have him inactive for the last game. He had been an All-Star with the Hamilton Tiger Cats and played against Marc Trestman’s Montreal Alouettes during his time to the north.

The reasons for signing the 5-8, 175-pound speedster were topped by the realization that the Bears would likely not be having Devin Hester for this season. Williams has abilities as a receiver but with Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall and Marquess Wilson as the projected top three, the priority was return skill.

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Williams has yet to show that. He produced a 73-yard touchdown catch against the Philadelphia Eagles but strained a hamstring making a cut running the route and has not played since. He did not return a kick or punt vs. Philadelphia and was inactive for the Jacksonville game.

The first thing Williams the Returner will need to remember is that he doesn’t have to catch every punt. Fair catches are allowed in the NFL, but not in the CFL.

“The rules are completely different so you have to get adjusted to that,” Williams said. “But the good thing for me is that I only played two years of CFL ball and before that was always playing American football, so I’m used to it.”

Michael Spurlock is Williams’ chief competition for the returner job and Spurlock has NFL experience that included five return touchdowns between seasons with Arizona and Tampa Bay. Spurlock has averaged a serviceable 24.2 yards on 107 career kickoffs and 9.6 yards on 81 punt returns.

For comparison purposes, Hester has averaged 24.8 yards on kickoff returns and 12.3 on punt returns for his career.

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“Spurlock [has] had some production in the league, so he’s really the first one at bat right now,” said special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis. “We’re trying to see where Chris Williams is at. We’ve got some other candidates also, so we’ve just got to work through it.”

Spurlock has experience but also is 31 (same as Hester) and does not equal Williams in one key returner area.

“The [Williams] speed obviously shows up,” DeCamillis said. “We saw it on that one play. We just have to see him in some live-bullet situations to see how he’s going to catch punts in the National Football League and kickoffs. So we’ve just got to see that and hopefully we get a chance to do that.”