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Bears sign returner Eric Weems

Return man Eric Weems made Pro Bowl with AtlantFalcons after 2010 season. | Bob Leverone~AP

Return man Eric Weems made the Pro Bowl with the Atlanta Falcons after the 2010 season. | Bob Leverone~AP

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Updated: April 16, 2012 8:26AM



The Bears’ signing of one-time Pro Bowl kick returner Eric Weems fueled speculation that Johnny Knox’s rehabilitation from a fractured vertebra might take longer than expected.

Weems, who signed a three-year contract Wednesday, averaged 23.5 yards on 24 kickoff returns in 2011, with a long return of 37 yards. He also averaged 9.8 yards on 32 punt returns, with a long return of 42 yards.

Weems, 26, has averaged 25.7 yards per kickoff return over the last three seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. He made the Pro Bowl after the 2010 season, when he returned two kicks for touchdowns — a 102-yard kickoff against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a 55-yard punt return against the Carolina Panthers.

Weems also returned a kickoff 102 yards for a tiebreaking touchdown against the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs that season. Bears general manager Phil Emery was the Falcons’ director of college scouting when they signed Weems as an undrafted free agent out of Bethune-Cookman in 2007.

Knox has shared kickoff-return duties with Devin Hester in his three seasons with the Bears. He made the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2009, when he averaged 29 yards on 32 kickoff returns.

Knox averaged 26.5 yards on 15 kickoff returns before he suffered the back injury while trying to recover a fumble against the Seattle Seahawks on Sept. 18. The Bears have divulged little information about Knox since the injury.

Kellen Davis in the fold

The Bears signed tight end Kellen Davis to a two-year contract. Davis had 18 receptions for 206 yards (11.4 per catch) in 2011, with a team-leading five touchdowns. He led all NFL tight ends in touchdown ratio — one for every 3.6 receptions.

McCown returns

After signing former starter Jason Campbell to a one-year contract Tuesday, the Bears further shored up their backup-quarterback situation by signing Josh McCown to a one-year contract.

McCown, whom the Bears signed after Jay Cutler suffered a broken thumb against the San Diego Chargers on Nov. 20, started the last two games of the regular season after Caleb Hanie faltered. He had passer ratings of 76.8 (one touchdown, two interceptions) in a loss to the Packers and 75.4 (one touchdown, one interception) in a victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

For now, McCown figures to battle Nathan Enderle for the No. 3 quarterback spot on the roster.

Bush in, Barber out?

Free-agent running back Michael Bush, who rushed for 977 yards (3.8 per carry) and scored eight touchdowns (seven rushing) for the Oakland Raiders last season, visited the Bears on Wednesday.

The 6-1, 245-pound Bush has value to the Bears as a complement to Matt Forte. He’s an effective receiver (37 catches, 418 yards in 2011) who can score inside the 5-yard line. The former Louisville standout, a fourth-round draft pick by the Raiders in 2007, has scored 15 rushing touchdowns the last two seasons — 13 of them inside the 5.

In 2011, Bush scored six touchdowns of two yards or less. Bears running backs scored two, both by Marion Barber.

Hayden visits

Cornerback Kelvin Hayden, the Hubbard and Illinois product who burned the Bears with a clinching interception return for a touchdown in the Super Bowl, also visited the Bears. The team is looking for somebody to compete with Tim Jennings, last year’s starter who signed a two-year contract Tuesday.



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