EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- With all the talk of a lack of leadership and how bad their special teams has been, the New York Giants may get some much-needed help in both departments on Sunday night if Chase Blackburn can play.
Blackburn is the special teams captain and the unit's best player. He has been inactive the past two games with a medial collateral ligament knee injury but practiced fully on Wednesday.
And just in time with Devin Hester and the undefeated Chicago Bears coming into town on Sunday night. The Giants' biggest weakness is their special teams play. They have struggled in almost every facet from coverage, tackling, punting and returning. During their 29-10 loss to Tennessee on Sunday, the Giants also missed two field goals.
"It is not just Devin Hester," Blackburn said of the Giants' concerns. "Our return team has been challenged, punt return has been challenged and obviously our coverage team needs to get better. Even missed field goals. We haven't played well on special teams."
For months, Tom Coughlin has looked exasperated when discussing special teams. The Giants have struggled to replace Jeff Feagles (retirement) at punter and Domenik Hixon (season-ending knee injury) at returner.
Sunday night could be a nightmare for punter Matt Dodge. Coughlin said he wants his rookie to punt it out of bounds and away from Hester, who took a 62-yard punt all the way back against Green Bay for his 12th career regular season kick return (eight punt, four kickoff) touchdown.
The Giants didn't need to see Hester's return against the Packers on Monday night to be reminded of how deadly he is. Hester returned a 108-yard return off a missed field goal against the Giants on Nov. 12, 2006 at Giants Stadium.
"He is a special returner," Blackburn said. "Even if he is in a tight space, he has the ability to get skinny."
Dodge said Wednesday was the first time he has really focused on trying to pinpoint his punts toward the sideline. Of course, his mentor, Feagles, was the master at that.
"Obviously I am not going to be nearly where he was," Dodge said. "He could put it, probably land it in a trash can if he wants to."
Dodge said his goal is to have a net average of 40 yards. If he can hit punts 40 yards and out of bounds, that will be just as good as a 60-yard punt that is returned 20 yards. And of course, it doesn't end up in Hester's hands as well.
The special teams, which angered Coughlin by surrendering a 45-yard kickoff return to the Titans to start the second half, has to show up this week. Coughlin said he will play some starters on kickoff coverage in an attempt to improve the struggling unit.
He also wants to see returner Darius Reynaud, acquired in the Sage Rosenfels deal with Minnesota, hit the holes faster and the blocking on returns to improve drastically. Reynaud, who missed practice on Wednesday due to illness, is averaging 5.9 yards per punt return and 17.7 yards per kickoff return.
Blackburn's potential return after a two-game absence helps a great deal.
"When you are facing adversity and things like that aren't going right, you really want a challenge," Blackburn said. "Sometimes it takes things like that for everyone to come together and jell as a unit."
Ohm Younmisuk covers the Giants for ESPNNewYork.com.