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Let’s talk some special teams.
Look, the special teams period of practice might not be as entertaining as seeing Justin Fields face the Bears’ defense, but it has a major impact on the ultimate makeup of the 53-man roster.
Frankly, special teams periods can be chaotic. With a 90-man roster in training camp, there are a lot of players and only so many reps that can be fit into a short period of time. But when tough roster decisions need to be made in about a month, a player’s special teams value can be what puts them over the edge.
This can be tough for some rookies to accept, especially because many of them don’t have a lot of special teams experience. The 70th guy on the Bears’ roster right now might have been the best player on his college team, which means he might not have been used on special teams.
But now it might be the biggest thing that player needs to focus on to stay in the NFL.
So how does Bears special teams coordinator Richard Hightower get these young players to buy into the idea of embracing special teams? I asked him that question Monday, while bringing up players like Sherrick McManis and DeAndre Houston-Carson, who made a nice career on special teams for the Bears.
“We show examples, not only of guys you’re talking about, Sherrick or DHC or any of those guys,” Hightower said, referencing players he has coached like Fred Warner, Emmanuel Moseley, D.J. Reed and Matt Brieda, saying it’s “like we got a farm system.”
But the special teams coordinator also likes to show tape of Adam Thielen, who went from a special teamer to starting wide receiver, and Davante Adams, who played on punt return before becoming one of the best receivers in the league.
Perhaps the best example? Terrell Davis.
“(He) was a sixth-round draft choice and went down, flew down and made a kickoff tackle and knocked the crap out of somebody, and they said, ‘Hey, let’s put him in on offense.’ Now he’s a Hall of Fame running back.”
Given that special teams can often mean survival in the NFL, Hightower said he has “never felt like it’s been a tough sell.”
“They come in, we develop them, and then they go on to bigger roles. That’s probably what I’m most proud of as a coach,” Hightower said. “So I think you have to show them examples, over and over, of how they can help the football team and in turn maybe down the line help themselves.”
Cornerback Josh Blackwell is an example of a player who the Bears claimed off of waivers and stuck last season because of his special teams ability. Fourth-round rookie wide receiver Tyler Scott is trying to add punt return duties to his plate to help secure his spot as an active player on game days. Second-year returner Velus Jones Jr.’s return ability is buying him time while he tries to contribute more on offense. Cornerback Jaylon Jones is another player who might be kept around because of his special teams ability.
So when preseason games come around, don’t ignore the special teams plays. Those plays will have a big impact on the final roster.
Up Next: Pads! Finally. The pads go on this morning at 10 a.m. and we’ll have you covered all day on @CHGO_Bears and AllCHGO.com.
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