The Atlanta Falcons drafted Eric Weems in 2007, when Phil Emery was director of scouting. During his five seasons with the Atlanta Flacons, Weems proved himself as one of the top kick returners in the NFL. In 2010, he was third overall in kick return average (27.5 YDS), bringing one back 102 yards for a TD. He returned another 102-yarder for a touchdown in that season's playoff game versus the Green Bay Packers.
Also in 2010, he returned 18 punts for a 12.8-yard average – which, had it qualified, would have ranked third overall in the league – and another touchdown. For his efforts that year, Weems was named an All Pro selection and earned a trip to the Pro Bowl.
Weems hit free agency this offseason and Emery, now the GM for the Chicago Bears, went back to the well, signing Weems to a three-year, $4.2 million deal.
"I am familiar with Eric. He was recruited and signed when I was in Atlanta," Emery said after the signing. "The thing that I always noticed during the time I was there was his persistence and his willingness to do anything and everything to help you win and the type of worker that he is on the field."
WR Eric Weems
Fernando Medina/US Presswire
With the Bears, Weems is expected to be a contributor on all four special teams units.
"I'm just looking to go out and do my job," Weems told Bear Report this afternoon. "Kickoff team, punt team, punt return team, kickoff return team. I'm just going out and laying it all on the line and playing my hardest."
He said the biggest difference between Atlanta and Chicago is the attitude of the coaching staff.
"Everything is not uptight [with the Bears]. The coaching staff is more relaxed. It's very loose. Coaches are more laid back, [they] just let us go out and play football."
Weems will pair with All-Pro kick returner Devin Hester to create one of the most dangerous return duos in the NFL.
"Devin is a very explosive guy, fast, has a lot of top-end speed," said Weems. "I've learned a lot of things from being around just for these couple of months that I've been here."
Special teams coordinator Dave Toub outlined the differences between the two returners during veteran minicamp this offseason.
"They're both very good, obviously," Toub said. "Hester is more of an outside guy. He wants to make people miss and get outside. Weems is a north and south, physical type returner. He's going to break a lot of tackles but he fits our scheme really well. We try to block people and have a point of attack. He's going to be able to hit that thing exactly where we want it. We're excited about Eric Weems."
Weems said as much this afternoon.
"Devin, he has it all. He's a sideline-to-sideline, straight-line [returner]. He has the top-end speed, the get-away speed. Me, I'm just a straight downhill type of guy."
The Bears are hoping that Weems can add a new dimension to the return game. In that way, if the Bears choose to use Hester more on offense, the return units won't be compromised.
Additionally, Weems could spell Hester on offense. As a wideout, Weems has a single-season high of 11 receptions. As such, expecting any type of significant contributions from him on offense may be asking too much. That said, during minicamp, he was lined up with the first team as the club's fourth wide receiver and looked very comfortable out of the slot, where he can fully utilize his quickness.
He's not going to catch 75 passes but it appears Weems will have a role in new coordinator Mike Tice's offense.
"I'm not coming in trying to take [someone else's] position," said Weems. "Wherever the coaches say they need me at, that's where I'm going to play. It doesn't really matter to me. I feel like I can do both inside [in the slot] or out [wide]."
Whatever his roles may be, one thing is for sure: Eric Weems is going to play a big part in the success of the Bears in 2012.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.