Even though he's 5-foot-9, Eric Weems isn't one of those players who accept being overlooked just because his primary contributions come on special teams.
Actually, it usually doesn't take long to notice Weems, since the feisty 195-pound six-year veteran from Bethune-Cookman can often be seen mixing it up after the opening kickoff. His 10 special-teams tackles are 1 behind Bears leader Blake Costanzo.
“He kind of ticks some people off sometimes, and sometimes they push him back and they can't believe this guy is beating them,” special teams coordinator Dave Toub said. “(But) he's a fun guy to be around. He's been a pleasure to have.”
This week Weems will play a bigger role than he ever has since becoming a Bear in the off-season, following his five years and one Pro Bowl with the Falcons. With Devin Hester out with a concussion, Weems will be returning punts and kickoffs, covering both and playing a little wide receiver.
His No. 14 will be noticeable, and that's the way he believes it should be.
“That's the thing about special teams,” he said, “you want to get noticed. That's how guys (move) up. Playing special teams will get you other opportunities as far as offense, defense, everything else. Special teams is another phase of the game. You could make or break the season, win or lose a game.”
Entering this season, Weems' career kickoff-return average of 25.6 yards was a full 2 yards better than Hester's. His career punt-return average of 10.6 yards is more than respectable, even though it isn't in the same elite category as Hester's 12.3, which is fifth best in NFL history.
Weems hopes the Bears will get more return opportunities Sunday, since some opponents are afraid to put the ball in Hester's hands.
“Devin's a very, very dangerous guy,” Weems said. “Teams are intimidated by him. Once he gets his hands on the ball, he's a human highlight.”
Weems isn't too bad himself, though his style differs from Hester's.
“I'm more of a get-the-ball-and-go-type person,” he said. “I don't like to shuck and jive with the ball. I just like to get it and go. Wherever guys have their blocks, that's where I like to go.”
Weems is also adept at preventing the other team's returners from getting where they want to go. He carries on a friendly rivalry and good-natured trash talking with Costanzo on the kick-coverage units.
“Him and Blake will go back and forth,” Toub said. “They're always competing. Who made the tackle? Who didn't make the tackle? Who's getting doubled? Who isn't? And it's a lot of fun as far as the coverage goes.”
That type of passion is part of what makes Toub's teams among the NFL's best year in and year out.
“We argue every day about who's getting the most tackles, who's going to make the most plays,” Weems said. “That's a great sign when you have guys competing for tackles on the team. You know guys here are very excited to play on special teams, and that's great.”
Weems is clearly amused when he's discussing his competition with Costanzo. He's a lot less friendly and a lot more intense on the field, when Toub sometimes has to get him to dial down the intensity.
“Very feisty,” Toub said. “He's tough. He's real quiet at practice, and he's kind of different. When it's game time, he's a lot more vocal, and when he blocks you, he lets you know about it. But he's been great. He's been a leader for us.”
He's also a team guy. His 9-yard reception last week was his first of the season. Three of his 5 kickoff returns came last week after Hester was injured, and he has yet to return a punt.
But you won't hear any complaints about the frustrations of not getting his hands on the ball more.
“It's not frustrating at all,” Weems said. “I'm just trying to take advantage of the opportunity. I'm a patient person. I don't complain at all. Whatever coach needs me to play, I'll play it. I just enjoy playing the game; that's it.”
That's enough for the Bears.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.