Bears positional analysis: Specialists

Posted March 07, 2011 @ 2:04 p.m.
Posted By Dan Parr

This is the ninth in a series of position-by-position looks at the Bears' personnel entering the 2011 offseason. The series concludes with an analysis of Chicago's special-teams situation.

Overview: Special-teams coordinator Dave Toub does his job as well as anyone in the league, and it was no surprise that the Bears' special-teams units were among the league's best again in 2010.

Toub might have to replace some key contributors from those units this offseason, however.

Longtime P Brad Maynard and the top six special-teams tacklers from last season — S Josh Bullocks, WR Rashied Davis, CB Corey Graham, LB Brian Iwuh, LB Rod Wilson and RB Garrett Wolfe — are due to become unrestricted free agents.

Of the coverage players, losing Graham might hurt the most. Some believed he was snubbed last season when he didn't make the Pro Bowl, and the 25-year-old will be pursued by other teams when he hits the open market.

Toub has done a nice job of filling in the gaps when other core special-teamers have left in prior years and he'll be challenged to do so again in 2011.

Here's a breakdown of the specialists on the roster:

PK Robbie Gould: The reliable six-year veteran is coming off another solid season. He connected on 25-of-30 field-goal attempts (83.3 percent) and one of the misses came on a blocked attempt. It was his lowest percentage since his rookie year in 2005, but Gould showed improved leg strength. He made the longest field goal of his career, connecting on a 54-yarder (his previous long was from 52 yards), and a career high 16 of his 77 kickoffs resulted in touchbacks, which is twice as many touchbacks as he had in the year prior. He was also voted to be the team's representative to the players' union last season, replacing Hunter Hillenmeyer.

RS Devin Hester: The all-time leader in returns for touchdowns (14), Hester is still dangerous. It had been a couple seasons since Hester had broken a return for a TD before he took three punts back for scores in 2010.

KR Johnny Knox: Knox only had eight kickoff returns last season after making the Pro Bowl as a kickoff returner the previous year. Hester was reinstalled as the regular kickoff returner last season, and Manning shared time with him at the position, so Knox was able to focus on playing wide receiver.

LS Patrick Mannelly: He was due to become an unrestricted free agent before signing a contract extension through 2012 in December. Mannelly is the Bears' all-time leader in games played (205) and is a dependable veteran.

KR Danieal Manning: He has played in the shadow of Hester in Chicago, but Manning is also a dynamic kickoff returner — his career average is 26.8 yards per return, which is higher than Hester's career average of 24.1.

P Brad Maynard: Maynard's production declined in 2010, as he finished 32nd in the league in gross punt average (40.1) and 29th in net average (35.2). He's 37 and believes he can bounce back after going through a full healthy offseason — hip surgery in January 2010 clearly affected him — but it appears he'll have to compete to win the punting job if he re-signs.

P Richmond McGee: McGee, who signed a two-year deal in February, will at least get a chance to compete for the punting job. He entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 2008 and the Bears gave him a look in the ’09 preseason. He has yet to play in a regular-season game, though.

Bottom line: There will be some significant personnel turnover on special teams, and the punting situation is a bit of a concern, but the Bears are in good hands with Toub overseeing the operation and key cogs like Gould and Hester in place.

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