Training Camp Preview: Special Teams

The Bears will have to rely on strong special teams play to help put points on the board and keep the opposition at bay. Take an in depth look at the kicking game as well as the top candidates to handle kicks and punts.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Starters -- PK Robbie Gould, P Brad Maynard, LS Patrick Mannelly, PR Devin Hester, KR Rashied Davis. Backups KR Danieal Manning, K Josh Huston, P Joel Stelly.

Gould (21 of 27 FG attempts) was a pleasant surprise last season as a rookie, and he has a much stronger leg than veteran Doug Brien or Paul Edinger, who preceded him. Still, the majority of his misses came from 40 yards and beyond. His accuracy from long range will have to improve for him to keep the job.

The team wants to push Gould and signed Huston as an undrafted free agent Josh out of Ohio State. Huston spent most of his time behind current Jets kicker Mike Nugent until his final year at school. He converted 22 of 28 field goals, but connected on just 5 of 10 attempts from beyond 40 yards. He did lead the nation with 49 touchbacks. In his career, 54 of his 77 kickoffs went for touchbacks, and he had one stretch of 18 straight touchbacks in 2005.

Normally reliable Maynard had a sub-par season, but he has a strong leg and generally can place his kicks with great accuracy. His net average dropped by 3.4 yards per attempt from 2004 to 2005. He also placed just 24 punts inside the 20 compared to 11 touchbacks.

The low point came in the playoff loss to Carolina, when Maynard had two attempts go less than 20 yards. Management was openly critical of him in the off-season and vowed to find someone to push the 10-year veteran in training camp.

Stelly averaged 44.6 per punt at Louisiana Monroe. The undrafted free agent is also capable of kicking off, as 23 of his 44 kickoffs went for touchbacks last year. He has shown the ability to boom the ball in his brief stint with the Bears, but his accuracy and consistency leave something to be desired. The six-foot-1, 221-pounder will have to prove he can be counted on under pressure in order to beat out Maynard.

Finding reliable return men was a season-long problem that appears to have been solved with the selection of Manning and Hester. Both scored six times on special teams in college and are legitimate home run threats. However, it will likely be Hester who handles punts and possibly kickoffs. Davis is somewhat undersized but has the toughness to compete. Mannelly is one of the most reliable long snappers in the business.


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