This past offseason, Chicago Bears GM Phil Emery spent considerable time, effort and cap money boosting the club's special teams. One of the biggest acquisitions was Eric Weems, whom Emery signed to a one-year deal at the start of free agency.
"Eric Weems we feel like is going to come in and contribute as a receiver, a punt returner, a kick returner and a cover player on [special] teams," Emery said back in March.
Weems, in his sixth NFL season, is an accomplished special teams player who made the Pro Bowl and was named an All Pro for his duties as a kick returner in 2010.
WR Eric Weems
Rob Grabowski/US Presswire
With Weems' pedigree, it was assumed his presence on the roster would take pressure off Devin Hester in the return game. Yet throughout the 2012 campaign, Weems has been used almost exclusively as a coverage player and blocker on special teams. Through the club's first 10 games, Weems had returned just two kickoffs and not a single punt. He also had zero catches as a receiver on offense.
That all changed against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday after Devin Hester was lost with a concussion. Weems was asked to step in and fill not only Hester's role on special teams but also as a wideout.
"It felt real good," Weems said after the game. "We had a bit of preparation all week just in case something like that happened. It felt good to get some [work] in."
Weems returned three kicks for 65 yards (21.7 average) and caught one pass for nine yards. Those aren't game-changing numbers but his ability to step in and seamlessly fill Hester's shoes goes a long way when you look at the team as a whole.
"We brought him here for that reason," Lovie Smith said today. "He did show what he could do on special teams and also as a receiver, just toughness. When you're a receiver like that and you like playing on special teams, that's saying a lot about you starting off. But for him, every situation we've put him in, he's done some good things – not just returns but other parts [as well]."
Weems was happy to get on the field but said he didn't want it to happen at the expense of an injured teammate.
"It's now how I wanted it [to happen] though," said Weems. "I figured I could've done better than that."
Still, Weems showed great poise in his dual role replacing Hester and was able to step right in and produce without holding back the offense.
"It takes time to get in a rhythm but once you get going, you've got to go," he said.
The Bears lost five players during Sunday's contest, yet were still able to stomp an NFC North opponent by 18 points. That says a lot about Emery's job building roster depth. Last season, when a few key players went down, the entire team collapsed and fell out of the playoffs, despite a 7-3 start to the campaign. Emery was determined not to let that happen again, which is why the Bears didn't skip a beat after five starters were felled against the Vikings.
Going forward, players like Weems will serve a crucial role in keeping the team afloat during the injury filled stretches every NFL team must endure.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.