Breaking Down the Bears: Specialists

Paul Edinger has gone from dependable to shaky and it could lead the Bears to go in a different direction next season.

Edinger will be challenged by someone in training camp after missing an NFL-worst nine FG attempts. Edinger was 15-for-24, and his kickoffs weren't very deep and lacked hang time. In the past he has been a clutch kicker who was unaffected by the sometimes adverse conditions at Soldier Field, but he will have to compete for a job next season.

GM Jerry Angelo has always tried to push Edinger and will either look to do so with a second day draft pick or a veteran free agent.

P Brad Maynard was outstanding and might have been the team's MVP. He should have gone to the Pro Bowl, in the opinion of many. He averaged a career high 38.7 net yards per punt and placed 34 inside the 20 with just 5 touchbacks. The team rewarded Maynard with a contract extension following the season.

Long-snapper Patrick Mannelly is automatic and was also recently given a new deal.

Jerry Azumah on kickoffs and R.W. McQuarters on punts give the Bears a dynamic duo, but they could be split up.

While McQuarters is an electric punt returner and is adequate in coverage, he will count $4.25 million toward the cap next season. That's a hefty sum for someone that could fall to fourth on the depth chart at cornerback behind Charles Tillman, Azumah and Nathan Vasher, who was a standout punt returner in college.

Azumah went to the Pro Bowl in 2003 when he led the NFL with a 29.0-yard average per kick return with two touchdowns. He missed the opening month of the '04 season because of neck surgery. Although his skills as a cover corner didn't suffer with four interceptions, his kick return numbers dropped dramatically. He averaged 22.0 yards per attempt.

One reason for the decline is the blocking scheme special teams coach Dave Toub installed relies on one-on-one blocking rather than the wedge approach used under the previous regime. One busted assignment can result in a poor return. Additional time in the scheme could lead to more success.


Bear Report Top Stories