Special Teams Losses In Chicago
The Chicago Bears roster is getting tighter and tighter as voluntary OTA's approach. They have their offensive and defensive starters in place, and most position battles are for back up spots. The emphasis is on the lower half of the roster, and special teams play, but everyone and their mother is tired of hearing about the kicking competition. The chart above shows all of the special teams units and their starters. You cannot find special teams depth charts like this on Google. It is custom made. I stopped and started the Coaches Film from the Eagles game to identify all the players. This article will highlight the players the Bears lost on special teams and their potential replacements.
Ryan Pace decided not to re-sign Joshua Bellamy, Benny Cunningham, and Daniel Brown during free agency this year. All three players started on four different special teams units. Taquan Mizzell is on the team for now, but when it comes to the 53 man roster, he may be on the outside looking in. Mizzell also played a pivotal role on special teams, starting on both coverage teams and the punt return team. I didn't realize how misleading it was when Brian Baldinger stated: "every team needs a Ben Braunecker." After that, I just assumed Braunecker was on every special teams unit. Every Bears fan loved the statement, but after watching the film, I discovered his role was similar to Brian Scalabrine. Braunecker's only starting job was on the punt coverage team so his role can expand, but that won't be nearly enough coverage. There are between 14 and 18 vacancies on special teams(about 25%), excluding the kicker. The kickoff team will have the most turnover, but it might be a blessing in disguise. Last year the Bears kickoff team was the fifth worst in average yards-per-return. The Bears are exclusively looking at kickers with big legs. That will help the unit face fewer returns, but it won't solve the coverage issues. The Bears need sure tacklers on both the coverage teams and some fresh faces may be the answer.
No disrespect to Joshua Bellamy, but most of the players highlighted previously are offensive players, and they don't always make for great tacklers. If Duke Shelley and Stephen Denmark make the team, they will both play on coverage teams. They're both fast enough to play gunner, and in my opinion, Shelley will be a core special teamer. Kerrith Whyte is expected to take over for Taquan Mizzell as RB4, but he also has experience playing on coverage teams in college. Whyte is a freak athlete and has all of the measurables. If Whyte isn't plugged in as a returner, he can block on both of the return teams. Kevin Toliver, Javon Wims, and Kylie Fitts all received playing time on special teams at some point last season. It's possible these players can all expand their roles on special teams this season. Between the incoming rookies, and players getting their role expanded, the Bears should be able to upgrade the talent on special teams.
It seems petty to look this deep into the special teams units, but that is how you win the Super Bowl. An NFL roster always has room for quality players, especially ones on rookie contracts. Injuries add up towards the end of the season, and quality depth can be the difference maker during a Super Bowl run. The Bears roster stayed abnormally healthy last season, and that should not be the expectation every year. The Bears signed the arguably the best UDFA class of 2019. It's essential that Nagy and Pace evaluate properly and put the right players on the 53 man roster. The starting line up needs little evaluation, which allows the front office to run a fine tooth comb through all the players competing for the remaining roster spots. At this point in the rebuild, it's hard not to have faith in Pace.