Under Toub, special teams have Bears pointing ahead
On Monday mornings after games, Bears special teams coordinator Dave Toub barrels into his Halas Hall office no later than 6:30 a.m.
While it's not early enough to beat Lovie Smith into work - "He leaves late and he's always the first one here," Toub said - it leaves enough time for the 47-year-old Toub to carry out one of the week's most anticipated events:
Watching the videotape and grading each Bear who plays special teams.
Toub hands out 3 points for making a tackle, but takes away 3 points for a missed tackle. He gives 4 points for a "big block" on a long return, but deducts 4 points for a "loaf" - not running to the ball on the coverage team.
"We don't tolerate loafs," Toub said.
By the time the Bears' special teamers crowd into their meeting room for the traditional 8 a.m. review, Toub's total scores for each player are on photocopied sheets for all to see.
"Everybody wants to be the leader the day after the game when we watch the film," said veteran Rashied Davis, one of the Bears' special teams workhorses who's perhaps most visible as a punt-coverage gunner.
"Double digits. You've got to get into double digits. Every person is striving to get into double digits. They're working their tail off to get into double digits."
On most Mondays, there's no small amount of good-natured razzing sent from by the top performers toward the also-rans.
"It's a pride thing," said Israel Idonije, a non-drafted free agent who made the league on his special teams prowess before gradually adding defensive line duties.
But this Monday, after the Bears pounded Detroit 48-24, there was hardly anybody in the room to razz.
Between Johnny Knox's 102-yard kickoff return for a score (worth 8 Toub points), 3 punt returns of at least 20 yards and Brad Maynard's 4 punts inside the 20, the Bears special teamers enjoyed some Toub scores for the ages. Idonije, the team's 2009 scoring leader with Corey Graham in close pursuit, led the way with 20 points.
"We had 11 guys in double digits," Toub said. "That's the best we ever had."
Considering the Bears special teams prowess during Toub's tenure, that's saying quite a bit.
Working toward No. 1
In the late 1970s, when then-Kansas City Star sportswriter Rick Gosselin covered the Chiefs, he used to spend time with special teams coach Frank Gansz.
Gansz, one of a handful of such coaches in the NFL at the time, shared with Gosselin a list of 12 categories he used to track Kansas City's performance against the rest of the league - basics such as kick return average, punt return average, etc.
As time marched along, Gosselin added 10 more categories (including blocked kicks, turnovers, turnovers forced and starting point for drives) and began to publish his NFL rankings.
When Gosselin moved to the Dallas Morning News, the rankings moved with him and became the industry standard.
The Bears topped the Gosselin/DMN rankings in 2006 and 2007 before falling to No. 8 last season. Toub's goal is to return to the top. Thanks to last week's powerhouse showing against Detroit, the Bears jumped from 12th to second.
They lead the NFL in kick-return average (31.3 yards) and offensive starting point (34.3-yard line). Thanks to Knox's return last week, they share first in points (6).
Toub credits Smith's emphasis on special teams for the team's continual appearances near the top of the DMN standings.
The Bears start every work day with the 8 a.m. special teams meeting that runs for 40 minutes. When they hit the field, Toub gets five minutes at the start of practice and then 15 minutes in the middle.
"It's important," Toub said. "You can win or lose games on special teams in all six phases. We get plenty of time."
Peculiarly, or perhaps not, Toub looks just as intense on the sidelines during the 1 hour and 40 minutes when the special teams aren't practicing.
"Sometimes I'll coach guys in between if they're not doing offense or defense," Toub said. "We'll coach what happened in the game, maybe, or what happened during practice. We're constantly talking about it."
Or, during preseason camp in particular, Toub will use his downtime to evaluate guys he might want on his teams.
That's how Garrett Wolfe, for example, forged a key role as the "PP" for punter Brad Maynard (the personal protector who serves as the quarterback of the punt team) as well as the "2" on the kick-coverage team (the outside man on the left side).
"He's a fast guy and he ended up being a great tackler for us," Toub said.
Before Toub joined the Bears in 2004, he served as a defensive line coach as well John Harbaugh's assistant special teams coordinator at Philadelphia. During their three years together, the Eagles won the Gosselin/DMN title twice.
Now Harbaugh boasts a 14-6 record in his second year as the Baltimore Ravens' head coach. Could Toub follow that path?
"Yeah, it's a long-term goal," Toub said reluctantly. "It's something you always think you might want to do someday. (Harbaugh) has paved the way pretty much for everybody."
For now, though, Toub is all about trying to better the Detroit game.
"We set the new bar," Toub said.