Thursday, December 13, 2012
Injuries leave special teams scrambling
By Jeff Dickerson
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- It has not been a banner week for the Chicago Bears' special teams.
In the wake of having three core players placed on injured reserve following a Week 14 loss to the Minnesota Vikings -- kicker Robbie Gould (calf/hamstring), Craig Steltz (pectoral) and Sherrick McManis (PCL) -- special teams coordinator Dave Toub had to scramble the past couple of days to find suitable replacements.
The Bears had to go outside the organization to fill the void left by Gould, who suffered a season-ending calf/hamstring injury during pregame warmups. Given the nature of the Bears' playoff push, the organization prioritized experience in a kicker, which ultimately led them to 39-year-old Olindo Mare, who beat out several other kickers Tuesday in a tryout at Halas Hall.
"Olindo made all his kicks," Toub said. "He was 100 percent, so that definitely helped. Coming in, we felt like he might be the guy ahead of time, so we were happy to see how he performed. He out-kicked everybody that was there."
A veteran of 15 NFL seasons, Mare has connected on 350 of 431 field-goal attempts and 480 of 486 extra points, which should ease his transition, despite being picked up so late in the year.
"The first thing we have to do is get the operation correct with our holder and our snapper," Toub said. "We have to get that straightened out. Fortunately, we have two experienced veterans there so they really have that thing ironed out already. We got that in the right direction. Now we just have to figure out exactly what is his range.
"That is going to be game-time when we get out there and see what the weather is going to be like, how the field conditions are, all of those factors come into play. Then we'll tell Lovie where we can kick from, what's the optimal distance that we can get. Hopefully it's close to where Robbie's was."
While it is possible to find serviceable kickers on the street this late in the season, the task of replacing Steltz and McManis is much more difficult. Not only were Steltz (7) and McManis (10) two of the top special teams tacklers on the roster, they are contributed on multiple phases, making their losses even greater. There is also a chance Blake Costanzo will be asked to play some linebacker with Geno Hayes battling through a knee injury, which would put additional pressure on the already depleted unit.
The Bears elevated receiver Joe Anderson from the practice squad, which makes him an option to contribute on special teams, and signed linebacker Jerry Franklin to a two-year deal. Tight end Kyle Adams is expected to be one of the players asked to expand his role on Sunday when the Bears face a Green Bay special teams unit led by electric return man Randall Cobb.
"It's very difficult at this point," Toub said. "There aren't a lot of guys on the street you can take in, get here, and all of sudden come in and be a great player for you because he hasn't been in the room, hasn't heard your system, (and) he doesn't know the plays. So we have to go it done with the guys that are here. The guys that are on our team. I explained that to the guys, and those that we are going to ask do a little it more are going to step it up, and they will do a good job for us.
"Anytime you have this many loses on special teams it's going to be tough. We have the guys in that room that will step up, I feel confident in that."