So far, Bears' special teams not very special
BOURBONNAIS -- Bears special teams didn't play especially well in the preseason opener. In fact, their performance left a lot of room for improvement.
They allowed a 102-yard kickoff-return touchdown late in the second quarter.
Micheal Spurlock muffed a punt when he ran into teammate Michael Ford, relinquishing what would have been excellent field position.
And a 63-yard Tress Way punt that was downed by Josh Bellamy at the Philadelphia 8-yard line was nullified by an illegal touching call on Bellamy. The backup wide receiver was the first player to touch the ball after he came onto the field from out of bounds, a violation. Way's re-kick went out of bounds after 37 yards, a difference of 26 yards in field position.
"I took away we didn't play very well," said special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis. "We had a lot of miscues. It's disappointing, as practice has been going well. We felt like it was a good training camp up to this point.
"We've just got to be positive going into this next game and try to get some of those things taken care of."
The Bears also squandered a scoring chance after the defense forced a turnover in Eagles territory, as Robbie Gould's 41-yard field-goal attempt was blocked.
"Anytime you get a blocked field goal, it's a missed execution," DeCamillis said. "Any way you look at it, we've got to get that corrected."
And, according to DeCamillis, the sooner the better, hopefully by Thursday's second preseason game. Special teams were emphasized at Monday morning's practice on the new field turf at Olivet Nazarene University's Ward Field.
"We've got to start finding the guys who are going to play for us on Sundays," DeCamillis said. "It's still an evaluation, but that's our goal, and especially by the third preseason game we've got to see those guys (emerge) and they have to play together as a unit."
Long snappers Chad Rempel and Brandon Hartson are competing to succeed retired Patrick Mannelly, but neither has distinguished himself. Mannelly's expertise and consistency allayed any worries about long snapping for the previous 16 years, but it's a concern now.
"I thought it was a decent night," DeCamillis said. "The wind affected it a little bit. We'll see what happens this week."
The punting of sixth-round pick Pat O'Donnell and Way continues to lack consistency, although both have launched several long-range missiles in practice. Carrying that over into games is the next step.
As is the case most years, DeCamillis has to replace several key special-teamers, most of whom come from the bottom half of the roster.
Linebacker Blake Costanzo was last year's top special-teams tackler with 17, but he was not re-signed. Safety Craig Steltz, who was third with 14 tackles, participated in his first training-camp practice Sunday after sitting out with a groin injury.
Backups who excel on special teams increase their chances of finding a spot on the final 53-man roster. Over the next three preseason games, coaches will be looking for players who can become contributors in all four phases of special teams (punt return, kickoff return, punt coverage and kickoff coverage).
"The guys know we've got to amp it up," coach Marc Trestman said after Monday's practice. "We're looking for eight core guys to play special teams, and the next 2-3 weeks are going to be critically important."
Not much was learned in the punt-return game last week. Eric Weems had fair catches on both his attempts, and Micheal Spurlock managed just 2 yards on his 2 attempts.
Chris Williams was scheduled to get his chance in the second half, but he suffered a hamstring injury on his 73-yard touchdown grab in the third quarter and missed the remainder of the game.
"That was disappointing," DeCamillis said. "But you did see the speed on that (TD) catch, so hopefully we can get that formulated in the (return) game."
Weems was fourth on the team last year with 13 special-teams tackles, 1 more than he had in 2012. He was the Atlanta Falcons' top kickoff- and punt-return man from 2009-11 and a Pro Bowl pick in 2010, but he didn't get much of a chance to do either with the Bears while Devin Hester was around.
He's finally getting an opportunity, but Weems did not stand out Friday with 2 kickoff returns for 44 yards.
"We know who he is as a cover player," DeCamillis said. "On the kickoff returns, I thought Philly did a good job of covering him. We really didn't have a good gap for him there. We'd like to get some open spaces for him and see what he can do."
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