There has been a vacant spot on the Chicago Bears roster since the club parted ways with kick and punt returner Devin Hester this offseason. After unceremoniously booting one of the greatest return men in league history out the door in early March, it quickly became clear the team’s lack of a Plan B.
Bears brass brought in a number of players to compete for the job, yet even after OTAs and minicamp, the team is no closer to finding a starting returner than they were three months ago.
“The job is up for someone to grab,” GM Phil Emery said today. “We brought in Michael Spurlock because of his experience. Obviously we brought Chris Williams in from New Orleans. We grabbed him off their practice squad at the end of the year. Michael Ford is a returner. Obviously, Eric Weems believes that job is his. So that’s to be decided and that’s a good thing that there’s people in the mix.”
While there is an emphasis to find a dangerous returner, Emery said the player who emerges the winner must give the team positional flexibility.
“The ideal situation is that he’s a roster player,” said Emery. “It gives you a lot more flexibility. I mentioned having a 10th defensive lineman — you have to find that flexibility somewhere so it’s very difficult to have a returner-only and accomplish that task. It may end up being this year or next year or another year that you need 10 offensive linemen.
“It just depends on the situation. Or if you want to carry an extra tight end because you like the talent of a player and don’t want to risk having him claimed on the waiver wire. So having a returner-only is difficult in terms of roster adjustment. We want that player to have flexibility, whether it’s a wideout or a running back or a corner or a safety that has that talent, but for us, that’s primary.”
During the preseason, each of the competitors will get a shot to prove his value on special teams, yet it appears the player who shows the most on offense or defense will emerge the victor.
With that in mind, pay attention in preseason to the backup receiving corps, where most of these players reside. If Williams, Weems, Edwards or Spurlock can stand out as a pass catcher, he’ll likely find his way onto the final 53-man roster.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth 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.