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Friday, June 10, 2011

In Review- The Special Teams

I tried brainstorming a "Killin' Time" idea for this week and came up rather uninspired. Hopefully I'll have something worth my vitriol next week. For today I'm just going to continue with my unit reviews, finishing up the review of the players with the special teams unit today (I'll do one more for the coaches). Since they first hired Dave Toub the Bears have had an outstanding special teams unit, and this year was the best unit they've fielded since 2007, so there are plenty of positives to take from this unit going forward.

#9 Robbie Gould, Kicker
There's nothing much to be said about Robbie, really. He's awesome and everyone knows that. He's the most accurate kicker in Bears history and he's the 6th most accurate kicker in NFL history (also 6th all-time in extra point % at 99.522, since he hasn't missed an XPA since his rookie year in 05). Last year he hit on 25 of 30 field goal attempts, a very good 83.3% which was actually his worst % since his rookie year. If your kicker can hit 83.3% in an off year, you're doing pretty well. This year Lovie also finally unleashed him past the 50 yard line, something he had seemed reluctant to do before. Coming into this year Robbie had attempted just five kicks from beyond the 50 yard line in five years as a Bear (he was 2-5). This year he nearly matched his career total, attempting four field goals from beyond 50 yards and hitting 3 of them. The only knock anyone ever had on Robbie before this year was that he wasn't a powerful kicker, and I'd have to say he's helped to dispell that. I've got no beef with him being the highest paid kicker in the NFL, and I'd expect him to keep at it for a long time.

#4 Brad Maynard, Punter
Robbie's partner in crime may not be around so much longer, however. Brad's been as consistent and dependable of a punter as anyone could have wanted for most of the decade in which he's worn a Bears uniform. He's 37 years old, however, and some cracks started to show last year. His 40.1 yard average was the lowest of his career, and the 35.2 net average was the second worst showing he's had as a Bear. He still had a respectable 24 punts within the 20 yard line, but that's actually below the 28 that he's averaged in his Bears career. He had 39 punts that were actually returned against him this year, his highest total since 2004 (although the 55 he allowed to be returned against him in 04 shouldn't really be held against him since he had to punt 108 goddamn times during the Quinn-Krenzel-Hutchinson Reign of Terror). For what it's worth he even had a punt returned for a TD against him (by Dez Bryant), only the second one he's allowed in his Bears career. I like Brad, and his directional punting is still a great asset, but I'm not surprised the Bears have stated they'll be bringing in some competition. Hopefully he can find a way to boost his power a bit and maybe keep it going for a few more years, but I think he's definitely on the down side. Also, holy shit, I just wrote an entire paragraph about a punter.

#38 Danieal Manning, Kick Returner
I mentioned in my bit about the secondary that Danieal Manning had a quietly all-pro season as a safety, but another reason he'll be missed if he leaves is his ability to return kicks. Manning is two years removed from his Pro Bowl 2008 season when he led the NFL with a 29.7 return average, but he still managed to average a respectable 24.7 average on 33 returns this year. He didn't score a touchdown, but he did manage to break a few long ones, including a 62 yarder on the opening kickoff against the Panthers. His loss on special teams would be easier to absorb than his loss on defense (especially since I picture Hester in an even more reduced role on offense this year), but the best case scenario is still bringing him back.

#13 Johnny Knox, #81 Rashied Davis, Kick Returners
Although Danieal handled the majority of the kick returns, these two combined for 13 returns for 252 yards (19.8 yards per return) and no touchdowns. Although their opportunities were limited, Johnny is of course just one year removed from his own Pro Bowl year where he averaged 29 yards on 32 returns and had a 102 yard kick return for a TD, and Rashied has performed respectably on his 70 career kick returns as well. This is certainly an area where the Bears have unbelieveable depth.

#23 Devin Hester, Punt Returner
There were those who'd said that Devin was just a two year wonder and a beneficiary of great blocking who had lost the explosiveness he'd shown in his first two years. To them, I'll just Devin himself speak:

"They told me I was never gonna be nothin' but a kick and punt returner. Well, at least I'm the best one to ever do it."

Best. Ever.

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