LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The life of an NFL gunner is full of roadblocks.
Just ask Nolan Carroll.
Carroll, a gunner for the Miami Dolphins, was at the center of a league-wide controversy a few weeks back when he was tripped by New York Jets strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi while trying to cover a punt. Not only did Alosi make illegal contact with Carroll, it was later discovered the coach ordered five players to form a wall with the purpose of impeding Carroll's path to the football.
"I've never seen that before," Chicago Bears special teams coach Dave Toub said. "You just aren't looking for that on the sideline. You don't think that somebody is going to set up a wall. But now I'm looking for it, I'm looking in the past to see if there was a wall there with other teams, like the Patriots or the Jets. But I didn't know."
It's been tough to trip up the Bears' gunners this season, as Corey Graham and Rashied Davis are having excellent seasons. Graham's pursuit of a Pro Bowl berth is well documented, but Davis is also having a superb season, and is third on the team in special teams tackles (14) behind Graham (20) and Garrett Wolfe (16).
Davis finished with the most special teams points in the Bears' 40-14 win over the Minnesota Vikings.
"You are the best coverage guys, both of those gunners out there, so they have to be tough and fast," Toub said. "Toughness is probably the biggest thing, because you are going to be double-teamed. Those double teams are brutal, because the referees are going to let you hold in there.
"As long as you are inside, the corner and safety can hold you. As soon as you get to the edge, they have to let you go, but until you get to the edge, it's a dogfight. It's really hard to get to that edge, but when you do, it's a race to get leverage on the return man. It's tough in there for those guys."
And it will be tough for Toub's coverage units to contain New York's Brad Smith, who averages 29.1 yards per kickoff return, tops in the AFC. The Bears have given up a few long returns over the past few games, so stopping Smith is a priority for Toub entering Sunday's game at Soldier Field.
"He's the most patient return man in the league," Toub said. "He waits on his blocks, and when the hole is there, he has great acceleration. When you watch tape, it doesn't look like he's running really fast, but he's such a long strider with long legs. But you never see anybody catch him."