BOURBONNAIS -- Four of the Bears' top six special teams tacklers are gone, and their punter of the past 10 years is also history, but that doesn't mean coordinator Dave Toub won't have one of the league's best units again.
Punter Brad Maynard, 37, has been replaced by 27-year-old Adam Podlesh. The former Jacksonville Jaguar was a Pro Bowl alternate last year, and he's a player the Bears targeted after determining Maynard was not in their plans.
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"(Podlesh) was always our No. 1 guy," said Toub whose 2006 and '07 units finished No. 1 in the NFL in special teams rankings and are perennially one of the NFL's best. "As soon as we were able to call him, we tried to recruit him. He fits us. He's very athletic, he runs a 4.4 (40-yard dash), he's got great hands, and he's a directional punter. He's a young Maynard is what he is. He's reaching his prime right now."
Maynard was not happy when he was told he would no longer be in the Bears' plans, and he left with some acrimony. He felt there was a deterioration in communication with Toub the past couple years, and they sometimes disagreed on strategy.
"Brad did a lot for the Bears," Toub said. "He did a lot for himself. He did a lot for me. He's a solid guy. I'm sorry to see the way he felt at the end. I didn't know he felt that way. That's unfortunate. We wish him the best down the road. I still think he can play, I think he has some years left."
Maynard signed a one-year contract with the Houston Texans on Monday.
As far as who will be covering punts this year for the Bears, that remains to be seen. Gone are Garrett Wolfe, Rashied Davis, Rod Wilson and Josh Bullocks, who finished second, fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively, in special teams tackles last season.
"I think about that all the time," said cornerback Corey Graham, who led the Bears and the NFL with 25 special teams tackles and was re-signed Saturday as an unrestricted free agent. "It's definitely going to a different group of guys out there. We lost a lot of guys. Hopefully we can bring in some guys or some of the young guys will step up and make some plays for us, and we have to find a way to get it done regardless."
Getting Graham back was huge for a unit that usually has a high turnover rate and is often populated by young players.
"To be able to keep a veteran like that and have him in the room, it's going to be the key for us," Toub said.
Linebacker Brian Iwuh, an unrestricted free-agent linebacker who tied with Wolfe for second on the team last year with 18 tackles, was re-signed on Sunday. An even more significant addition to the coverage units is Sam Hurd, the former Cowboys unrestricted free-agent wideout, who signed a three-year contract last week that could be worth as much as $5.15 including incentives.
The 6-3, 208-pound, Northern Illinois University product has 45 career receptions for 630 yards and 2 touchdowns. But it's on special teams where the 26-year-old, sixth-year veteran has made his mark. He has 72 career special teams tackles, including 40 over the last two seasons. Last season he had a career-high 21 tackles to go along with 14 receptions for 120 yards.
Hurd and Graham will be the Bears' gunners, the players on either end of the punt-coverage team, the ones who get the most attention from opponents and usually make the most tackles.
"Corey has been that guy for a number of years now," Toub said. "Gunner is a specialty position. In a lot of ways, it's a finesse position, and he's got those techniques down. He's a good tackler in space. He's smart. He's got good enough speed, and he's a great instinct player."
With Hurd on the other side and Podlesh providing accuracy and a strong leg, the Bears again have the nucleus of exceptional special teams.
"We targeted (Hurd) during the off-season as a guy we would try to get no matter what," Toub said. " He's going to bring a lot to the table for us. You have him on one side as a gunner, Corey on the other and Podlesh, who's an outstanding punter. I'm excited."
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