Chicago Bears: Brad Maynard
But the dynamic will change in 2014 with the arrival of sixth-round draft choice Pat O’Donnell, who is expected to be just the third starting punter (Brad Maynard and Adam Podlesh) used by the Bears since 2001, especially after the team informed veteran punter Drew Butler of his release on Sunday.
The 6-foot-5 O’Donnell showcased his powerful leg during the Bears’ three-day rookie minicamp, but the rookie also spent valuable time off-the-field learning from Gould, one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history. O’Donnell will double as the Bears’ holder next season barring some unforeseen event.
“Robbie has been throughout the building trying to help me out, and learning from him will be a great opportunity for me,” O’Donnell said on Sunday. “I know it’s a great challenge playing in Chicago at times, but I’m looking for to it. He told me that on a windy day like this you should go out and walk the field and try to correct your drop. [He told me] to focus on the kicking side of your technique.
“I held for three years, so I’m pretty familiar with that. Robbie is a veteran, so he’s going to tell me exactly how he likes it held. So I’m going to be guided in the right direction. So it’s not going to be too big of a challenge.”
O’Donnell routinely hit the roof of the Walter Payton center on Friday when the team conducted to opening day of rookie minicamp indoors. The final two practices were held on the outdoor practice fields, but O’Donnell continued to impress on Saturday during the brief kicking drills the punters participated in that were open to the media. Sunday’s final session lasted just under an hour.
The addition of Signor, who participated in the Bears’ voluntary three-day minicamp on a tryout basis, marks the first time another placekicker is expected to challenge Gould in training camp in several years. The Bears have brought in training camp punters to compete with incumbent starter Adam Podlesh and former punter Brad Maynard, but Gould has gone unopposed, until now.
Somewhere in there he’s put together enough context clues from the team’s brass to string together the words: We want you back.
Perhaps he’ll finally hear that from the club in the coming days, with teams likely getting back to the business of free agency now that the lockout is close to coming to a conclusion.
“At both of the award ceremonies, they spoke very highly of me, and I kind of got a sense that they do want me back from the Ed Block courage award banquet and the Brian Piccolo award ceremony,” Adams said. “From both coach [Lovie] Smith and [defensive line] coach [Rod] Marinelli’s speeches, they want to have me back. I’ve just got to hurry up and wait.”
With new rules soon to be in place, it shouldn’t take long. The league is expected to assign a designated period of three days to sign undrafted rookies and their own free agents before full-blown free agency kicks off around the NFL.
An eight-year veteran, Adams falls into a vital group of Bears free agents -- which includes center Olin Kreutz -- the team will try to re-sign for the upcoming season during what’s sure to be a chaotic time for general manager Jerry Angelo, director of player personnel Tim Ruskell, and contract negotiator Cliff Stein.
Adams hopes (and likely will be) one of the top priorities among that group.
“I love it here, man. I love the crowd, the team, the coaches,” Adams said. “There are really no big egos on this team. We’ve got some pretty heavy hitters on this team, who believe in that team-first concept. That’s really great for someone like me.”
Here’s a look at the players from the 2010 roster that the Bears will be considering during the exclusive three-day window to bring back their own free agents:
DT Anthony AdamsPriority level: High
Unheralded because he doesn’t post gaudy numbers (36 tackles, two sacks) from his nose tackle spot, Adams is one of the key elements to the team’s stingy run defense. His preference is to remain a Bear, but the club won’t be able to bring him back if it extends the run-of-the-mill three-year, $6 million deal it offered several players before the end of last season.
Aromashodu flashed early last season, but quickly fell out of favor with offensive coordinator Mike Martz. Aromashodu doesn’t want to return to Chicago. The team likely feels the same.
Bullocks was solid on special teams last season, but needs to make a more meaningful contribution on defense to stick. If he re-signs, Bullocks will have a tough time making the team.
Clark shined at training camp last year, and is arguably the club’s most athletic player at tight end. But for some reason Clark never received a legitimate shot to contribute on offense. With time dwindling on his 12-year career, Clark will explore opportunities elsewhere.
QB Todd CollinsPriority level: Low
His struggles when called upon, Caleb Hanie’s emergence in the NFC Championship game and the team’s decision to draft Nathan Enderle likely have signaled Collins’ exit from Chicago. There’s still a slight chance for a return, however.
Davis continues to be a standout performer on special teams, but might warrant a more extensive look at receiver after a strong outing in the regular-season finale. Davis likely won’t be highly coveted in free agency, thus increasing the prospects for a return to the Bears.
CB Corey GrahamPriority level: High
Graham cranked out what probably should have been a Pro Bowl season on special teams (he led the league in special-teams stops) in 2010. The team’s problem, however, is Graham probably feels typecast as a special teams only player with no shot at receiving a real opportunity to contribute on defense. That might lead to Graham looking elsewhere.
LB Brian IwuhPriority level: High
Iwuh tied for second on the team in special-teams tackles (18) last season, and showed in his only start (team-high 12 tackles with 10 solo against the Seahawks on Oct. 17) that he’s capable of potentially cracking the starting lineup full time. The team offered a multi-year extension at the end of last season, and if the deal is still on the table during the three-day negotiating period, he’ll sign it.
C Olin KreutzPriority level: High
Not as dominant a player as he used to be, Kreutz still ranks favorably among other players around the league at his position. Fortunately for the team, the NFL instituted the three-day negotiating window. Otherwise, there’s a good chance the Bears would have competition for his services.
The priority level should be high here, but team sources indicate the club has no plan to offer more than the three-year, $6 million deal it extended prior to the end of last season. Manning missed just three tackles all last year, finally coming into his own at the safety position. If the Bears won’t budge on the financial package, he’ll go elsewhere. Several teams are interested.
Maynard seems to have fallen out of favor with some in the organization after producing somewhat of a down year in 2010. Kicker Robbie Gould has shown strong support for the punter, but it might not be enough.
LB Nick RoachPriority level: High
Injuries slowed Roach last season, but he should be in contention for the starting strong-side linebacker position in 2011. Roach wants to re-sign with the Bears, but the club could lose him if it can’t offer a strong deal during the exclusive period. Multiple teams are interested.
Because of his injury history, Tinoisamoa said the Bears will “try to find a way to devalue” him. When healthy, Tinoisamoa is a strong contributor. But the Bears probably won’t offer much more than a veteran minimum contract.
LB Rod WilsonPriority level: Low
Considered more of a special-teams player and reserve linebacker, Wilson could be brought back for depth reasons. But at this point, a return to Chicago seems unlikely.
Wolfe will only fall further down the depth chart with Harvey Unga returning from spending last season on the injured reserve. With the team already stacked at running back, Wolfe’s special-teams prowess still might not be enough to warrant a roster spot.
Note: QB Caleb Hanie is a restricted free agent, and in March received a low tender from the Bears. Running back Kahlil Bell is an exclusive-rights free agent.
A: Should you be nervous about the lack of organized Bears workouts? No. Almost every single player on the roster has been training for the upcoming season since March. Running back Matt Forte and tight end Greg Olsen have been working out together back in Chicago for weeks. Other players like center Olin Kreutz, guard Roberto Garza, linebacker Nick Roach, defensive tackles Matt Toeaina and Anthony Adams, and wide receivers Johnny Knox and Rashied Davis (just to name a few) have spent much of the offseason training at professional off-site facilities in the area. Others like safety Chris Harris, cornerback Zack Bowman, defensive tackle Marcus Harrison and quarterback Caleb Hanie (just to name a few) opted to train the past few months out of state. I’m sure there is a risk that a few players could report to training camp unprepared -- the first practice is scheduled for July 23, lockout permitting -- but the majority will be in shape. Now, would it be nice to see Cutler throwing to the receivers, tight ends and running backs? Sure. Is it vital to the success of the 2011 Bears? No. Be nervous about the NFL being potentially forced to cancel regular season games in the fall because of the labor dispute. Don’t sweat Cutler and the receivers not playing catch and running a few routes in May.
A: Enderle will be the No. 2 if Hanie pulls the NFL version of Steve Sax and somehow forgets how to throw a football. I mean that with absolutely no disrespect towards Enderle, but there shouldn’t be any question about whether or not Hanie is worthy of the being the primary backup. Forget for a moment that Enderle is a rookie fifth-round pick out of Idaho who will probably require quite a bit of seasoning before he is NFL-ready; Hanie came off the bench ice cold and almost led the Bears past the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game. How can that not buy him the benefit of the doubt from the coaching staff?! The Bears took Enderle for two reasons, (1) Martz likes him, obviously and (2) Hanie is expected to leave via free agency whenever he gets the chance -- probably in 2012. But in 2011, barring an injury or a totally unexpected collapse, the Bears quarterback depth chart will read: No. 1 Cutler, No. 2 Hanie and No. 3 Enderle.
Q: Guys, as a graduate of West Virginia, I’m excited the Bears took linebacker J.T. Thomas in the sixth round of the 2011 NFL Draft. What are his chances of playing next year? -- Elliot (Crystal Lake, Ill.)
A: Bears general manager Jerry Angelo probably feels good about Thomas’ chances of making the 53-man roster, since he chose Thomas at No. 195 over a few other linebackers the Bears also liked in the draft. Unless Thomas turns out to be the second coming of Michael Okwo or Marcus Freeman, he should step in and provide relief on special teams while also giving the Bears a little extra depth at the linebacker position. While the Bears are expected to attempt to re-sign Brian Iwuh, it would be nice if the organization could find an eventual replacement for Lance Briggs on the weak side. Don’t get me wrong, Briggs is still a great player, but he’s going to be looking for a new contract in another year or two (Briggs is under contract through 2013) and will be the Bears be willing to pay another linebacker in his early 30s? Anything can happen between now and then, but if Thomas turns out to be a good player, he could figure into the future plans of the organization. Of course, Okwo was drafted in 2007 to be the heir apparent for Briggs, and we all know how that turned out.
Q: What’s the likelihood the Bears bring back punter Brad Maynard? He was terrible last year, in my opinion, and the Bears need to cut their losses and move on. What’s the deal? -- Luke (Waukegan, Ill.)
A: Right now, the odds of Maynard playing for the Bears in 2011 are remote. Although the punter is still regarded in many NFL circles as the best directional kicker in the game, the Bears were unhappy with Maynard’s statistics and performance last season -- 35.2 yards per punt net average. The Bears sound content to move on and sign a new punter in free agency (whenever that begins) to compete with Richmond McGee for the starting job. However, I continue to believe the Bears would be better off bringing back the veteran for another year. Unlike in 2010, not only will Maynard be healthy when the season begins, he’s going to extremely motivated to prove his doubters inside the building wrong. Plus, why make a change at punter in the same year when the rest of the special teams units could undergo a major overhaul depending on the free agency rules put in place for the upcoming campaign. The Bears have a really good thing going with their trio of specialists -- Maynard, kicker Robbie Gould and long snapper Patrick Mannelly --why screw up the chemistry?
Q: I’ve heard you guys talk about the Bears’ need at defensive end. Why? Didn’t they sign Julius Peppers last year? Isn’t Izzy Idonije coming off a career year? That doesn’t make any sense. -- Joe (Niles, Ill.)
A: First off, you can never have too many players with the ability to rush the passer. If anybody knows that, it’s Bears head coach Lovie Smith, who saw the defense fail to consistently pressure the quarterback in 2007, 2008 and 2009. What did those years have in common? The Bears missed the postseason, putting Smith on the hot seat in 2010. Secondly, Idonije, 30, has only been a full-time starter for one season, and while it’s certainly possible he puts together another solid year, to simply assume it’s going to happen would be foolish. Corey Wootton, a fourth-round pick in 2010) is best known for effectively ending Brett Favre’s legendary career, but besides that one memorable snap, Wootton didn’t provide too many other highlights. It would be wrong to write off Wootton after one season, but the Bears need to protect themselves in the event Idonije’s production tails off or Wootton fails to pan out. Plus, Peppers, who faces at minimum a double-team every play, turned 31 years old back in January. Maybe Henry Melton moves outside if rookie Stephen Paea or somebody else locks down the under tackle spot, but right now, that’s impossible to predict. What the Bears need to do, and I believe they will do, is address defensive end in free agency for the second consecutive year.
Moving on without certain special teams standouts is nothing new to Toub -- the Bears lost Brendon Ayanbadejo to free agency in 2008 and released Tim Shaw prior to the 2010 season -- but the sheer amount of potential losses gives reason for concern.
The top six special teams tacklers from last season (Corey Graham, Garrett Wolfe, Brian Iwuh, Rashied Davis, Rod Wilson and Josh Bullocks), punter Brad Maynard, kickoff return specialist Danieal Manning and versatile linebacker Nick Roach (three special teams tackles in the 2010 playoffs) all have expiring contracts.
While the Bears did tender Roach (four accrued seasons), Manning (5) and Graham (4) restricted-free-agent qualifying offers, all three could end up being unrestricted free agents once the owners and NFLPA finalize a new collective bargaining agreement.
Graham recorded 93 tackles in nine starts at cornerback in 2008, but he failed to win over head coach Lovie Smith and consistently crack the starting lineup either at cornerback or nickelback the past two years. Smith opted to use the combination of Zack Bowman and Tim Jennings opposite Charles Tillman at cornerback, while D.J. Moore beat out Graham for the nickelback spot last summer. With the writing clearly on the wall, the defensive back knows his best chance to be a full-time starter on defense is to sign elsewhere in the offseason, according to NFL sources.
Manning is also expected to leave the Bears if he qualifies for unrestricted free agency -- ESPNChicago.com reported last week Manning rejected a three-year, $6 million contract extension during the regular season -- but the Bears are stocked in the return game with Devin Hester and Johnny Knox.
The Bears failed to tender Wolfe, who doesn't appear to be in the Bears' future plans, especially since the team gave up a seventh-round pick to select running back Harvey Unga in the 2010 Supplemental Draft. However, despite standing only 5-7, Wolfe carved out a solid niche on kickoff coverage and also served as the all-important personal protect on the punt team -- Wolfe made 48 special teams tackles the last three years.
Meanwhile, Maynard's situation remains up in the air. Certain members of the Bears organization were unhappy with Maynard's average yards per punt (40.1) and net average (35.2) in 2010, but the veteran remains one the best direction kickers in the NFL (24 punts were placed inside the 20-yard line). Plus, some of Maynard's struggles can certainly attributed to a hip injury that forced the punter to miss much of his offseason work prior to last season, not to mention kicking the ball in inclement weather.
The Bears did sign Richmond McGee to a futures/reserve contract, but McGee hasn't attempted a single punt in an NFL game. Maynard, on the other hand, has punted the ball more than 1,200 times, in every pressure-packed situation imaginable for the New York Giants and the Bears.
Maynard, kicker Robbie Gould and long snapper Patrick Mannelly are considered the most consistent trio of specialists in the league.
Citing NFL sources, ESPNChicago.com reported the Bears are attempting to re-sign Iwuh to a two-year contract.
With so many moving parts, it should be an interesting offseason for the Bears' third phase.
Veteran kicker Jay Feely gives a big edge to the Chicago Bears in the punting and kicking categories against the Green Bay Packers this Sunday in the NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field.
"[Bears kicker Robbie Gould has] done a great job his whole career there, by far the best kicker of the four," said Feely, who kicks for the Arizona Cardinals. "And they have Brad Maynard as well, who's done a very good job punting the ball. They understand how to kick there.
"I would say Brad Maynard and Robbie Gould stand high above everyone else."
1. Cutler keeps rising to the occasion: Since the bye, few players have raised their level of play more than Jay Cutler, who posted a 117.0 quarterback rating versus Detroit. Cutler hit rock bottom in a loss to Washington on Oct. 24, but he has responded in incredible fashion. He continues to shown the ability to keep plays alive with his feet and check down to the open receiver. If Cutler keeps playing at this level -- and protecting the football -- the Bears will be tough to beat in the postseason. Cutler finally has his first winning season since high school; now it's time for him to accomplish another career first -- lead the Bears to a win(s) in the playoffs. At this rate, he might be able to pull that off.
3. Moore most pleasant surprise of year: Not only did D.J. Moore fail to get on the field in 2009, he wasn't even sure he was going to make the team in 2010. But Moore has a knack for making big plays, and the starting nickel back delivered a sack and tackle for a loss against the Lions. Sure, he looked bad trying to bring down Calvin Johnson at the end of the first half, but Moore always bounces back because he is supremely confident in his abilities. Moore successfully straddles the fence between confident and cocky, and has a very short memory when it comes to making a mistake or getting burned -- a prerequisite for any NFL defensive back. Although Moore isn't a big guy, he still tackles reasonably well and is always around the football. With his personality and skill level, Moore should be a fun guy to cover over the next several years.
4. The kickers salvaged special teams: It certainly wasn't a great day for the Bears' coverage units after Stephan Logan averaged 38.7 yards on three kickoff returns. But Robbie Gould and Brad Maynard held up their ends of the bargain. Gould booted a career long 54-yard field goal, and is now three of four from 50-plus yards this season. Maynard pinned the Lions inside the 20 on two of his three punts, and averaged 45 yards per kick. Both players hit a rough patch or so during the year, but come playoff time, the kicking game becomes increasingly important. The Bears have the luxury of two proven and dependable kickers -- to go along with flawless long-snapper Pat Mannelly -- and that could be the difference in a tightly contested postseason affair.
5. Suh is a force: If Ndamukong Suh stays healthy, he will be the premiere defensive tackle in the NFL for years to come. His ability to reach the quarterback from an interior defensive line position is amazing. But Suh doesn't just reach the quarterback, he attacks them with extreme force. That hit on Cutler was awesome -- and clean, in my opinion -- and showed you the strength and violence Suh puts behind his hits. Suh may toil in NFL purgatory (Detroit) for much of his career, but even if he keeps playing for bad Lions teams, I'll still enjoy watching him face the Bears twice a year. Why? Because I'm a football fan, and Suh is turning into a great football player.
TORONTO -- Here are five things we learned following the Bears' 22-19 victory over the Buffalo Bills.
1. A smart Jay Cutler wins games: So what if Cutler's passing totals weren't eye popping. The most important number with this quarterback is the amount of turnovers, and Cutler had just one on Sunday. This is the type of football Cutler is going to have to play for the remainder of the season if the Bears want to make the playoffs and maybe win a game or two in the postseason. He did make a few borderline reckless decisions with the ball against the Bills. But for the most part, he took what was available, and threw the ball away when necessary. He also displayed the most underrated part of his game -- his mobility and ability to make plays with his feet. This was easily Cutler's best game since Week 2 in Dallas. Easily.
3. Charles Tillman is struggling: I've always admired Tillman's toughness and productivity over the years, but it's been tough to overlook his struggles at cornerback the past few weeks. The veteran is still causing turnovers -- he forced and recovered a fumble against the Bills -- but Tillman is routinely allowing opposing receivers to catch the football, often for first downs. Perhaps the rotation at cornerback should continue when Zack Bowman returns from a foot injury, but instead of Bowman periodically spelling Tim Jennings, maybe he should give Tillman a few series off. Can it hurt?
5. Bears should reward Brad Maynard: I realize this hasn't been Maynard's best season, but sometimes it's important to look beyond the numbers. Maynard's ability to pin teams inside the 20-yard line has been critical to the Bears' success, and no punt was bigger than his fourth-quarter kick that was downed at the Buffalo 1-yard line. Rarely, if ever, over the years have the Bears been forced to worry about their kicking game, because Maynard and Robbie Gould -- who had a rare off game against the Bills -- are so consistent. Maynard and Patrick Mannelly are set to be free agents after this season. There is no need for either to be allowed to test the open market. Despite all the labor uncertainty in 2011, awarding new deals for these two veteran leaders should be a no-brainer.
"I asked him that the other day, I was like are you going to try and hit it?" Toub said. "He was like, ‘hell yeah’. I think every punter will try when they go to that stadium. Can he do it? I don't know, I don't know.
"You need a strong leg to do it. Maybe in his younger years, but not now."
That may have been one of few light-hearted moments this week for Toub.
Only one game into the regular season, the special teams coach is already down one key contributor, and may be without another when the Bears face Dallas on Sunday.
The Bears decision to place Hunter Hillenmeyer on injured reserve not only hurts the defense, it also affects special teams, where the veteran linebacker played a large role.
"He was a four-phase starter for us, so we have to get him replaced," Toub said of Hillenmeyer. "A guy like Rod Wilson, the fact he was able to play special teams a few years ago for us in basically the same spots, he's going to come in and do that for us in this game."
Wilson's arrival should ease some concerns, but such a quick fix doesn't exist if a hamstring injury forces Nick Roach to miss the Cowboys game. Roach, a fellow four-phase starter, is listed as questionable, but did have limited participation in practice Friday.
"There is no one guy who can do that," Toub said. "We'll have to replace him with two or three guys if Roach is down [this week]. But we're still holding out hope for him."
The Bears need to pay particular attention to their coverage units this weekend, because, like the Bears, Dallas boasts a talented group of return men, including rookie Dez Bryant.
"He's an outstanding athlete with great speed," Toub said. "He had one punt return last week where he hit it north and south. We're prepared for anything he can give us."
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Only a handful of players were absent during the Bears' organized team activity Wednesday at Halas Hall.
Manumaleuna was seen running on a side field with a member of the medical staff, as the tight end is still recovering from offseason knee surgery. Kreutz (Achilles) and Maynard (hip) are battling their way back from injuries, but both are expected to be ready for the start of training camp in late July.
Veteran linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa dressed for the workout, but did not appear to participate in any team drills.
Rookie cornerback Joshua Moore suffered a right thigh contusion during a redzone 7-on-7 drill, but is expected to be fine.
1. Jay Cutler will be a much better quarterback in 2010. How could he be any worse? Cutler finished the season with eight touchdown passes, one interception and 549 passing yards in the final two games. The new offensive coordinator must be able to highlight Cutler's strengths (arm strength and mobility), while making sure the he buys into the system and cuts down on the careless turnovers. The Bears have every possible motivation to make a good hire, and if they do the offense should be much improved just because of Cutler alone.
2. Devin Aromashodu, Johnny Knox and Earl Bennett give the Bears talented, young depth at wide receiver. Yes, the Bears should go out and sign another veteran to complement this group, but all three showed promise in 2009. While Bennett may end up being more of a possession-type receiver, Knox and Aromashodu have big-play potential. If the Bears ever figure out how to get the most out of Devin Hester, then maybe they’ll have something cooking at wide out.
3. A healthy Brian Urlacher will only bolster an underappreciated group at linebacker. Can we please give Bob Babich credit for a job well done in 2009. Did you notice all the injuries suffered at linebacker? Despite losing Urlacher and Pisa Tinoisamoa, Babich's unit played the best football of any group on the defense. Hunter Hillenmeyer, Nick Roach and Jamar Williams picked up the slack, while Lance Briggs made his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl. It will be interesting to see what the Bears do at strong side linebacker next fall, but the talent level at this position remains solid.
4. Special teams continue to flourish under Dave Toub. You want dangerous return men? Take your pick: Danieal Manning (assuming he's back), Johnny Knox and Devin Hester. You want excellent kickers? Take your pick: Robbie Gould and Brad Maynard. You want an emerging Pro Bowl-caliber guy on coverage teams? I give you Tim Shaw. As long as Toub is calling the shots, the third phase will always be a major strength of this organization.
5. Lovie Smith's contract will turn out to be a blessing for Bears' fans. For all of you upset Smith's contract prevented (we assume) the Bears from giving the head coach a pink slip after 2009, the one year remaining at the end of the 2010 season guarantees Smith will do whatever it takes to win. NFL head coaches are masters at self-preservation, and that should be crystal clear to everybody when the team reports to training camp. A high-priced veteran doesn't want to work hard? Bench him. A high-priced veteran can't play anymore? Get rid of him. It's time for Smith to stop letting star players operate under their own set of rules. Because really, what else does he have to lose?