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Bears’ Johnny Knox gets OK to take kickoffs out of end zone

Dave Toub doesn’t want inhibit big-play ability kick returner Johnny Knox (left).

Dave Toub doesn’t want to inhibit the big-play ability of kick returner Johnny Knox (left).

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Updated: November 4, 2011 10:42AM

Johnny Knox isn’t thrilled with the new kickoff rule, but the Bears’ Pro Bowl returner isn’t going to be afraid to take a deep one out of the end zone.

Sure, depth and hang time will be factors, but Knox said special-teams coordinator Dave Toub has encouraged him to return some that are booted into the end zone.

“For the most part, Toub is telling us to bring it out because he knows we have big-play ability back there and our blocking is great,” Knox said. “[Eight or nine yards] is pretty deep. But six or seven, for the most part, we’re coming out.”

In the season opener against the Buffalo Bills, Knox returned a kickoff 70 yards from the 1-yard line. Against the New York Giants, though, Rhys Lloyd hit all three to Knox four or five yards into the end zone.

Knox returned all three.

He returned one 45 yards and gained 23 and 19 yards on the other two.

Toub reiterated that hang time will play a key part and that receiver Earl Bennett, who will be the secondary returner, will assist in telling Knox whether to take one out because he’ll be more in tune with the blocking in front of them. Knox, meanwhile, will focus on catching the ball.

“If we get some low kicks, we want Johnny and guys like Devin [ Hester] to come out with it and put the pressure on the kickoff coverage,” Toub said.

Knox said he’s excited to return kickoffs; it’s another chance for him to contribute.

Receivers coach Darryl Drake made it clear that he could win back his starting spot from Roy Williams, but Knox said he isn’t obsessed with that.

“Just like my rookie year, I wasn’t starting, and I came out and made plays,” he said. “Even if I don’t start now, I’m going to make plays.’’

Then Knox hesitated.

“But I do want my starting job back,” he said. “Who wouldn’t?”

Knox said he’s paying more attention to details this year than he has in the past, and he’s comfortable because this will be his second year in the same offense.

And whether he gets his starting spot back or not, Knox said he’ll stay motivated.

“Even if I do get that job back, it’s still going to keep me working harder because I know [Williams] is not going to make it easy for me, and I know I’m not going to make it easy for him,” he said.

Rookie mistakes

With a shortened offseason, Toub said it’s even more important to give rookies a look during the preseason. Against the Giants, rookies made several key mistakes, most notably on a punt that was blocked and eventually set up an easy touchdown.

There will be more of the same Saturday in Nashville.

“We want to try to get the rookies in against good competition. We don’t need to see the rookies against their 5s and 6s or whatever,” Toub said. “We want to see them against their 1s and 2s, so we put them in there and throw them in the fire, so to speak.”

With the first round of cuts next week, the Bears want to know which young players can be contributors on special teams.


Tight end Kellen Davis didn’t practice Thursday because of back stiffness. Neither did receiver Sam Hurd.

◆ While running with the second-string offense, Knox said he’s not concerned about losing a rhythm with Jay Cutler. He said they do plenty of work every day during a route-timing drill.

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