Open Competition

Lake Forest - It's a little late in the season to have players fighting for a major role on the team, but that's exactly what has happened as the Bears attempt to fill the punt return job.

"We need to get some production from it and I feel like that could be a weapon for us," said head coach Lovie Smith. "We're trying to score in any way we can and hopefully we'll be able to get a little bit more from that position."

After waiving Bobby Wade on Tuesday, the Bears are holding an open competition during the practice week to name his successor. At this point the top priority is simply to find someone that can catch the ball. Wade fumbled ten times, which is the most of any non-quarterback in the league.

"Ball security is the No. 1 thing right now," said special teams coach Dave Toub. "Somebody has to make the catch."

Statistically, the Bears rank 10th in the NFL with a punt return average of 8.6 yards per attempt. They're also one of just six teams that have taken a punt back for a touchdown. The problem has been no matter who has been back there the ball ends up on the ground.

Rashied Davis, who replaced Wade two games ago, had difficulty fielding punts. He dropped two attempts against Green Bay and was pulled in favor of Wade.

"I feel like I can go out there and do what I need to do to get the job done," Davis said. "But it's up to the coaches to decide if they can trust me back there or not."

Davis will be considered for the role along with Bernard Berrian, Eddie Berlin and Nathan Vasher.

According to Toub, Berrian has the best hands of the group. He had the job to start the season, but fumbled during an attempted reverse in the season opener and was demoted.

"You focus on something it's going to happen," Berrian said. "So if you focus on not dropping the ball you're going to end up dropping it a little more than you want to."

Berlin is running fourth in the competition. He's averaged 3.7 yards on 7 career punt returns, but is sure-handed.

"We need a guy who can catch the ball and then worry about yardage afterward," Toub said.

Vasher averaged 14.0 yards on 94 punt returns at Texas. Considering the mounting injuries the Bears have in the secondary, turning to Vasher would seem to be a last resort. However, the situation has gotten desperate enough that no one is being ruled out.

"We're going to put our best players out and try to get a good play in every situation that we can," Smith said. "We're going to try to have our best players at all positions always. That could be punt returner, the best guy to return kickoffs, the best guy to play period."

If there is a favorite to win the job, the Bears aren't giving anything away. Taking everything into account Berrian would be the most likely candidate.

Davis has already been pulled for dropping the ball. Vasher is too valuable as a staring cornerback. Berlin could do the job, but isn't a threat with the ball. Berrian has speed and could do something with some running room.

"Anytime you get a chance to get on the field you've got to be able to want to take that," Berrian said.

Bear Report Top Stories