For years, the Chicago Bears boasted one of the league's best special teams units under former coordinator Dave Toub. Even though Toub is gone, working now for Andy Reid in Kansas City, the importance has not been lost in Chicago.
"Coach [Marc] Trestman has done such a good job of making the importance of it, and everybody understands how important it is. Plus it's been that way for a long time here, so that part has been pretty easy," current coordinator Joe DeCamillis said today.
The importance of special teams is exacerbated this week, the final week of the preseason. On Thursday night, bubble players will have their last opportunity to impress the coaching staff and make their case for a roster spot. Typically, that means showing up on special teams. Yet, according to DeCamillis, those decisions have been made.
"We've got it pretty well identified," DeCamillis said. "I think our guys are playing hard, they're playing fast, and I'm real comfortable with the guys we have."
There are a couple of positions on both offense and defense that still haven't been locked down, particularly at tight end and defensive tackle. Those competitions could come down to the wire this week against the Cleveland Browns. Yet for special teams, those battles appear to have concluded.
"We've met so much that most of those meetings at the end are really just kind of to finalize things more than anything else," DeCamillis said. "We've met a lot of times on personnel during this camp, so we have a good feel of where we're going to go."
One of the players many see on the bubble is Michael Ford, who has been very impressive as a kick returner in the preseason. Yet DeCamillis didn't give the undrafted rookie a ringing endorsement today.
"He's done a good job for the most part," he said. "He's had a couple things he'd probably like to have back, but he's done a good job. We'll see what happens with him. He's one of the guys that's definitely in the mix."
Of note in that quote: "in the mix." According to DeCamilllis' earlier statements, there really is no mix any more. So that doesn't bode well for Ford's chances of playing special teams, particularly with one return specialist, Devin Hester, already on the roster.
"For the most part, when you look at it around the league, most everybody's keeping a returner," said DeCamillis. "He might be the fifth receiver, but he's a returner. So it's not that huge of a deal. But [Hester] is one of the best of all time, so hopefully we can bet him back to that level he's been at in the past for sure. He's been great to work with for sure."
Ford is still in the mix for the third running back position though. If the coaching staff feels he has as much value on offense as Armando Allen - which certainly appears to be the case - then Ford's ability as a backup kick returner could land him a spot on the final 53.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.