Special challenges ahead for Bears special teams

  • The odds are against former NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch making the Bears' roster, but his toughness and smarts make him a coach's dream.

    The odds are against former NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch making the Bears' roster, but his toughness and smarts make him a coach's dream. George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

Updated 7/21/2014 7:54 PM

While expectations are high for coach Marc Trestman's 2.0 version of the Bears, there are many questions to be answered regarding all phases of the game.

And that's especially true with special teams, where the Bears will experience a massive turnover of personnel.


After 16 years of near-flawless long-snapping, Patrick Mannelly has retired; Devin Hester, the NFL's all-time leader in kick-return touchdowns, signed with the Atlanta Falcons; and punter Adam Podlesh was released after last season.

Let's get right to the questions in this third installment as the Bears prepare for their first training-camp practice Friday at Bourbonnais.

Q. How will the Bears replace Hester?

A. Possibly by committee. There are several players currently on the 90-man roster who have had success returning punts and/or kickoffs.

The most intriguing contender could be 5-foot-8, 175-pound Chris Williams, a superstar in the Canadian Football League with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. In 2012, he returned 5 punts for touchdowns. He also caught 83 passes for 1,298 yards and 11 touchdowns as a slot receiver.

Eight-year veteran Eric Weems went to the Pro Bowl in 2010 as an Atlanta Falcon, averaging 12.8 yards on punt returns and 27.5 yards on kickoff returns, but his major contributions in two years with the Bears have come as an exceptional coverage man on punts and kickoffs.

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Veteran vagabond Micheal Spurlock has played for seven NFL teams and has 5 kick-return touchdowns in seven seasons. At 31, he's the oldest member of the group but also the biggest veteran at 5-11 and 214 pounds.

Fifth-year veteran Armanti Edwards, a third-round pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2010, appears to be a longshot.

And don't forget about jack-of-all-trades rookie Jordan Lynch. The former NIU quarterback doesn't have the speed or quickness of the others, but he's a solid 220 pounds and could provide a different dimension.

Q. What are Lynch's chances of making this 53-man roster?

A. Being undrafted, the odds are against Lynch, who finished third in last year's Heisman Trophy voting. But his toughness and smarts make him a coach's dream, and he has the versatility to play running back, slot receiver, Wildcat quarterback and return specialist. And he could make his biggest impression covering kicks.

If Lynch proves he can be a difference maker on special teams, his odds improve.

Q. Is sixth-round draft pick Patrick O'Donnell a lock to succeed Podlesh?


A. Pretty much. Teams don't use a draft pick on a punter unless they're certain he's their man, and the 6-4, 220-pound O'Donnell comes with all the physical tools required of an NFL punter, plus a couple of others that make him unique.

O'Donnell did 23 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press at the NFL Scouting Combine, more than 21 defensive linemen and all 37 wide receivers in Indianapolis. O'Donnell also should fill the role of holder for field goals, a job that previously belonged to Podlesh.

Strong-legged Tress Way will be in camp to provide competition, much as he did last year.

Q. Who will take Mannelly's place?

A. It's doubtful anyone can replace the consistency, longevity and professionalism that Mannelly displayed while playing in more games than anyone in franchise history. But the job will go to Canadian import Chad Rempel or first-year player Brandon Hartson, unless a proven NFL veteran becomes available later in the preseason.

Q. How will Robbie Gould, the third-most-accurate field goal kicker in NFL history, be affected by working with a new long-snapper and a new holder?

A. It will be an adjustment for Gould. But after dealing with diverse and often adverse conditions at Soldier Field for nine years, Gould has more than enough mental toughness to handle it.

• Follow Bob's Bears and NFL reports on Twitter@BobLeGere.


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