If the Bears don't already regret parting ways with Devin Hester, they should.
The greatest kick-returner in NFL history left town reluctantly in the off-season when the team that drafted him in the second round in 2006 showed no interest in keeping him around, preferring to go in the proverbial "different direction."
While Hester went to Atlanta, none of the Bears' returners have gone very far in any direction this preseason. And they've turned the ball over twice in two games, once on a fumbled kickoff return and once on a muffed punt.
The Bears also allowed a 102-yard kickoff-return touchdown in the preseason opener. They did show improvement in their coverages in the second game, allowing an average of 22.3 yards on 4 kickoffs and 3.7 yards on 3 punts.
Rookie punter Pat O'Donnell showed why the Bears used a sixth-round draft pick to acquire him, with a net average of 48.3 yards on 3 punts, more than four yards better than the highest mark in the NFL last season. Two of his punts were downed inside the Jacksonville Jaguars' 20 and the other was returned one yard.
Challenger Tress Way had a 26-yard shank but rebounded with boots of 50 and 54 yards.
"Our cover team was better," coach Marc Trestman said. "Our tackling was better. I thought both of our punters competed, and we saw some good things there. Our (long-) snappers were good in terms of our operation times."
So much for the good news.
Eric Weems' performance was so disappointing that he was cut Saturday. Weems failed to advance any of his 3 kickoff returns past the 20-yard line, and he lost a fumble on his first attempt, which led to the Jaguars' first TD and put the Bears in a 13-0 hole.
On 6 kickoff returns in the preseason, Weems' longest was 26 yards. Hester averaged 27.6 yards in 2013.
Punt returns weren't any better Thursday. Micheal Spurlock totaled seven yards on three tries.
"We all saw it," Trestman said. "We're not feeling good about our kickoff-return and our punt-return game right now. We've got to do better. What we really have to do is continue to develop a lot of these new guys who are going to be core special-teams players and continue to work with them."
It isn't just the fault of the return men. Until personnel is solidified up front, returners will struggle to find running room.
Weems wasn't helped by returning kickoffs that were seven and eight yards deep. In the regular season, those might be downed. But, in an effort to get everyone more reps, Weems went for it.
"Part of it is we just haven't come together collectively," Trestman said. "It could be one guy (missing an assignment). We've returned some kicks just to return them, just to get the blocking and work on it, which we might not return during the course of the season. So that plays into it a little bit as well.
"But we're not where we want to be, no doubt about it. We've got to continue to develop this group of new core players that we have, and that will start this week."
Wide receiver Chris Williams, who was expected to get a long look as a return specialist, has been out since Aug. 6 with a hamstring injury. He will be re-evaluated before the Bears return to work Monday at Halas Hall.
During training-camp practices the 5-foot-8, 174-pound Williams showed the kind of rapid acceleration that has been missing from Bears returners so far, most notably Weems. But his return remains uncertain.
"I don't know," Trestman said when asked about Williams and other injured players. "We'll see who shows up on Monday."
Unfortunately for the Bears, it won't be Hester.
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