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Bears special-teamer McManis becomes block star

Brett Kern Sherrick McManis

Brett Kern, Sherrick McManis

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Updated: December 10, 2012 6:33AM

Fullback Tyler Clutts might not have been as expendable as the Bears thought when they traded him to the Texans after the last preseason game. But the deal for cornerback Sherrick McManis — like almost every other move this season — has worked out better than expected.

McManis has helped fill the void left by Pro Bowl ‘‘gunner’’ Corey Graham on special teams but added a bonus with a blocked punt against the Titans that Corey Wootton returned for a touchdown in the first quarter.

“He’s exceeded our expectations,’’ Bears special-teams coordinator Dave Toub said. ‘‘We saw him on tape, and we saw that he was a good gunner and he filled a need for us. That’s what we’ve expected. Once we got him, we started realizing what kind of take-off and get-off he has. We felt like we could use him as a rusher.”

It paid off against the Titans, when McManis came off the edge untouched to block Brett Kern’s punt, helping the Bears take a 7-0 lead.

‘‘He’s got the great quickness,’’ Toub said. ‘‘He’s got great get-off. He used good technique on that. It’s really hard to get a block in the NFL. There’s a lot of things that have to go right, and it did on that play.’’

Return of Hester

Devin Hester’s 44-yard return on the Titans’ next punt after McManis’ block was overshadowed by other big plays in the 51-20 victory last week. But it was a welcome breakthrough. Hester’s previous long punt return was 23 yards.

‘‘It was good to see him plant a foot and burst and split the two cover guys like he did and like we’ve seen so many times before,’’ Toub said. ‘‘We’ve just got to get him in the end zone.’’

Toub said Geno Hayes was caught celebrating prematurely on Hester’s return. But as it turned out, Nick Roach probably could have made a block on Jamie Harper, who tackled Hester at the 8-yard line.

‘‘Next time we’re going to get him in the end zone, and then there’s a lot of time to celebrate,’’ Toub said.

Tillman alert is off

Cornerback Charles Tillman created a stir when he said in a radio interview that he might miss Sunday night’s game if his expectant wife went into labor. But he indicated on his Twitter account that his wife will deliver on Monday, and he will not miss the game.

‘‘god, family, football... Baby is coming Monday don’t worry I’ll be there Sunday,’’ Tillman said in the tweet.

Jeffery still out

Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, recovering from a broken hand, did not practice Thursday and is unlikely to play against the Texans.

Linebacker Brian Urlacher (routine maintenance) and defensive tackle Matt Toeaina (calf) also did not practice.

For the Texans, running back Ben Tate (hamstring), tight end Owen Daniels (back) and nose tackle Shaun Cody (ribs) did not practice.

Wide receiver Kevin Walter (groin), defensive end Antonio Smith (ankle), fullback James Casey (illness) and cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph (quadriceps) and Brice McCain (knee) were limited.

They’re No. 1

The lack of long returns by Hester has been a concern, but the Bears lead the NFL in average drive start on both sides of the ball — as the receiving team (26-yard line) and the kicking team (19.5).

Hayden vs. Schaub

Texans’ quarterback Matt Schaub is fifth in the NFL with four interceptions in 249 attempts. Schaub has not had an interception returned for a touchdown on the road since current Bear Kelvin Hayden burned him for a 25-yard touchdown with the Colts in Week 8 of 2010.

Hayden stepped in front of Kevin Walter to make the play. But he recalled that pressure on Schaub — from Robert Mathis and blitzing linebacker Clint Session — created the opportunity.

‘‘The front four always does a good job of putting pressure on guys. And when the pressure comes, the quarterback’s eyes tend to get a little bit,’’ Hayden said. ‘‘I jumped the route, it was a good play and we scored off it.’’

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