Looking for Something Special

In an attempt to help the defense, the Bears plan to rely on a ground control style of offense that can shorten the game. In addition, special teams will be a critical element if the team is to succeed in 2005.

The Bears have had one of the best return duos in the league over the past two seasons. Jerry Azumah and R.W. McQuarters frequently gave the offense great field position.

Azumah is still in Chicago, but a hip injury has kept him out of the majority of training camp and he could miss the entire preseason. The Bears have been working on a wedge return that Azumah used to perfection in his Pro Bowl season of 2003.

The wedge allows Azumah to pick through holes like a running back, which is what he played in college. Without the benefit of having Azumah on the field to practice the formation, it could lead to a slow start in the regular season.

The same held true last year, when Azumah missed the first four games of the year following surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck. His numbers suffered in a zone-blocking scheme that saw his average drop by 7.0 yards per attempt.

If the Bears choose not to use Azumah, which is not out of the question considering his recent history of injury, a replacement has yet to emerge.

The situation at punt returns is also uncertain.

It's Bernard Berrian's job to lose, but if he starts at receiver it would be difficult for the Bears to risk his frail 177-pound frame on punts.

Although Bobby Wade worked in the off-season on catching punts, it doesn't solve his lack of speed or moves to be an impact returner.

GM Jerry Angelo went outside of the organization twice in a week to add return specialist to the roster. Derek Abney had eight (six punt and two kickoff) returns for touchdowns in college. He spent his rookie season on injured reserve with the Baltimore Ravens. Despite not having a rep with the Bears before the preseason game against the Rams, he returned punts. However, a muffed punt inside the 10-yard line is not the way to impress the coaching staff.

J.J. Moses is a proven return man in the NFL and will be given a chance on both kicks on punts. He has a career average of 22.5-yards on kickoffs and 7.3-yards on punts. He will get a strong look against the Colts.

Kickoffs were never Paul Edinger's strong suit. His lack of depth and distance on kicks gave the opponent a shortened field to work with and put the defense at a disadvantage.

Doug Brien was brought to Chicago to put the ball between the uprights, but an upgrade in the kickoff department would be an added bonus.

Special teams coach Dave Toub said Brien had impressed him in camp with the distance that he got on his kickoffs. The same can't be said of his effort in the preseason. In an open-air stadium he struggled to get the ball to the 15-yard line, while the 8-yard line was his deepest attempt in a dome.

Brad Maynard has missed time with a calf injury, but when healthy, he's one of the best punters in the game. The Bears are taking the cautious approach, which is the smart thing to do when he has three weeks to get ready for the season. Maynard has a tendency to overwork himself at times in practice, so a break now could do him good over the course of the season.

The subtleties of special teams adds up over the course of the game. It may not always reflect on the scoreboard, but it does have an impact.

A 50-yard punt that pins an opponent against their goal line allows defensive coordinator Ron Rivera to be more aggressive in his play calling. The result could be a turnover, a safety or just a three and out that gives the offense the ball at midfield.

A huge advantage for an offense that just needs to be mediocre to give the defense a chance to close out a game.

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