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Bears’ special teams need a lot of work

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Updated: August 25, 2014 9:33PM

The Bears miss Devin Hester, but they also miss Blake Costanzo. Heck, they miss Eric Weems — and they cut him a week ago.

The Bears’ special teams look like a mess less than two weeks before their regular-season opener. They’re no closer to finding a kick returner to replace Hester than they were at the start of camp. Their coverage teams looked as though they were still on training wheels Friday against the Seattle Seahawks. Percy Harvin returned the opening kickoff 46 yards to set up a touchdown drive. Earl Thomas returned a punt 59 yards to set up another touchdown drive, with rookie punter Pat O’Donnell sharing some of the blame.

Asked which facet of the special teams needs the most improvement, coordinator Joe DeCamillis told it like it is.

‘‘I would say all. How’s that?’’ DeCamillis said. ‘‘All of them need to show improvement.’’

The Bears are trying to replace the most prolific kick returner in NFL history in Hester, their leading special-teams tackler in Costanzo, veteran punter Adam Podlesh and longtime long snapper Pat Mannelly. But DeCamillis, who has coached special teams in the NFL for 25 years and is entering his second season with the Bears, might end up having the biggest shoes of all to fill.

Thanks to the luxury of having Hester in his prime, longtime coordinator Dave Toub usually had the Bears’ special teams ranked among the best in the NFL. Even when Hester wasn’t at his best, the Bears still found a way to return kicks and to cover them.

This is the challenge DeCamillis has on his hands right now: making something out of what looks like not much. It’s hard to remember special teams being this problematic this late in the preseason. But DeCamillis, while recognizing the issues, didn’t seem concerned they would sort themselves out.

‘‘I’m glad it’s happening now instead of during the season,’’ DeCamillis said. ‘‘Looking at it from a positive viewpoint, we’re getting things that we don’t want to happen during the regular season. We can identify them and correct them.

‘‘Sometimes you get a false sense going into the regular season when you’re not sure where the problems are, so it’s hard to fix ’em once you get there. I think maybe by not playing as well as we should have, hopefully that’s put a little bit more emphasis on it, and I think it has. I think our guys will rally to it, and we’re going to get better. I’m going to coach them better.’’

It’s difficult to condemn special teams during the preseason because that unit is in a constant state of flux. Young, inexperienced players and veteran newcomers often are thrown into uncomfortable positions just so coaches can see what they’ve got. It’s only one reason special teams is the hardest phase of the game to coach.

‘‘Coaches are seeing which backups are good at certain posi-
tions, and this is how you find out,’’ veteran cornerback Kelvin Hayden said. ‘‘Sometimes it works in the coaches’ favor, sometimes it doesn’t. But that’s what preseason is for. There’s no panic.’’

DeCamillis said Chris Williams and Senorise Perry will return kickoffs and Williams and Micheal Spurlock will return punts in the preseason finale Thursday against the Cleveland Browns. But this situation might not begin to clear up until after the roster is finalized and DeCamillis has a set lineup.

‘‘The more you can get the same guys out there, the more they can be working on the same page, the more they know how to play off each other,’’ DeCamillis said. ‘‘The more they’re out there, the better you’re going to be. Unfortunately, the way things are right now, we’ve got a lot of flux going on. That’s the way it is. And we’re dealing with it. We’ve got to be better than we have been up to this point. I think we will be.’’


Twitter: @MarkPotash

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