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The WCG All-Bears Post-Ditka Team: Special Teams Specialists

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Here’s a question: how many roster spots can you justify for a player simply because of his special teams skills?

San Francisco 49ers v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The WCG All-Bears Post-Ditka special teams specialists (click here for the series introduction)

Players in contention: Brendon Ayanbadejo (2005-2007), (2014-2016), Blake Costanzo (2012-2013), Rashied Davis (2005-2010), Maurice Douglass (1988/1993-1994), Corey Graham (2007-2011), Israel Idonije (2004-2012), John Mangum (1990/1993-1998), Adrian Peterson (2002-2009), Larry Whigham (2001-2002), Cameron Worrell (2003-2004, 2006, 2008)

The WCG All-Bears Post-Ditka team has 22 starters.

It has a kicker, punter, long snapper, and return man.

It has locked-in backups at running back (Thomas Jones), tight end (Dez Clark), offensive guard (Ruben Brown), defensive end (Adewale Ogunleye), cornerback (Nathan Vasher), and safety (Mark Carrier). We know we’re going to carry at least one more QB, two more WR, probably another RB, possibly another TE, probably Keith Traylor, and probably three more linebackers.

All told, conservative estimates put our current roster at 33 definite players and another 11 probable ones.

That leaves 20 spots for the full 53.

And it raises the question:

How many roster spots can a team justify for coverage specialists?

Since 1993, the Bears have sent three players to the Pro Bowl strictly for their abilities to cover kicks. Larry Whigham went in 2001. Brendon Ayanbadejo redefined coverage skills as a Pro Bowler in 2006 and 2007. Corey Graham had a breakout year covering kicks in 2011.

Ayanbadejo is a lock to make our roster. He covered kicks like no one I’ve ever seen while also opening big holes for Devin Hester in the return game. Here’s what Patrick Mannelly told us about Ayanbadejo and his impact:

Besides Devin, and we had some other good players at specialist positions, (Ayanbadejo) was the key ingredient. He was the guy. He was the pure special teamer that now all the teams have around the league. He played at such a different level. He raised everybody’s play to that level, and I mean the guys who were, say, the backup safeties, the backup corners, the guys who are not journeymen but trying to make the NFL, they were really worried about their other position. He brought them along and said, “No, this is your position. You play as hard as I am or else you’re going to get exposed, because you’re not running down as fast as I am, you’re not hitting as hard as I am,” and guys bought into that. He was amazing. Really amazing.

Devin Hester’s famous punt return against Arizona in 2006 includes one of my favorite Ayanbadejo sequences. Watch #94 make the block in the middle of the field that springs Hester, shield a second guy, and then run in front of the Cardinals pack to finish the job.

As we discussed last week in the running back article, Adrian Peterson is a possible duel threat as a third running back and special teams contributor. We can consider Israel Idonije and Bryan Robinson for the field goal block and PAT block teams, but we already have Julius Peppers, Alex Brown, and Big Cat Williams up front blocking kicks. We might want coverage guys like Blake Costanzo, Rashied Davis, Mo Douglass, John Mangum, and Cameron Worrell, but we’re going to have Peanut Tillman, Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, and likely Hunter Hillenmeyer all contributing.

Which brings us back to our question: who justifies a roster spot strictly for their coverage?

Before we answer that, special mention here goes to Josh Bellamy. His mishaps in the passing game last year dinged his reputation, but Bears fans need to remember that a healthy roster would have had him as our #6 receiver at best. On special teams, though, he was an ace, drawing the praise of Mannelly:

He’s a great special teams player. And he’s getting better. The more I watch tape of him, the smarter he’s getting. People talk about the drops he had as a wide receiver, but being a special teams player like that, that’s not your job. You’re normally the 5th, 6th, or 7th wide receiver on the roster. And he’s gotten better and better in each game I’ve watched the last two years. I think I’ve read the quote from John Fox that, “I would take 20 of him,” and I can see why. Just the way he plays those special teams. That guy’s a keeper.

Considering our talent on special teams, especially with Dave Toub, I am not sure Bellamy makes the cut. Here are four who do:

  • Brendon Ayanbadejo. Like I said, this is a no-brainer. The team voted him a captain in 2007, but even before then he felt like one.
  • Corey Graham. In 2011, Graham and Brad Maynard were in such perfect harmony that Maynard was actually punting the ball to Graham as a gunner, who would down the kicks deep in enemy territory. Here’s Graham in 2011 talking to me about the importance of special teams in Chicago.
  • Larry Whigham. Four years before Ayanbadejo came to town, the 8th year safety Whigham solidified our coverage teams and earned All Pro and Pro Bowl honors.
  • Blake Costanzo. In preparation for the departure of the Pro Bowler Graham, the Bears inked 49ers special teams standout Costanzo to a two-year deal in 2012. He liked to dance.

Truthfully, I think both Peterson and Idonije are going to make our team as duel threats. But with these four specialists plus guys like Peppers, Brown, Big Cat, Peanut, Urlacher, and probably Hillenmeyer (plus possible contributions from Mark Carrier, Chris Harris, Jerry Azumah, and others), I’m going to leave it at those four.

For now, let’s all bask in the glow of Bryan Robinson’s game-winning blocked field goal in The Walter Payton Game.

Okay, back to it. I posed three questions to my WCG colleagues. Here is Lester with the breakdown:

Jack: Which players should make this team strictly based on their special teams skills in coverage? This can be guys on the kick/punt coverage teams, gunners, KR/PR blockers, and FG/PAT blockers. I am taking Ayanbadejo for sure. Who else needs to be there?

Lester: Corey Graham, Josh Bellamy, Sherrick McManis, Adrian Peterson, and Israel Idonije off the top of my head, though I’m sure I’m missing a few.

Jack: What is your favorite memory of a special teams specialist?

Lester: I'm not sure if it was preseason or regular season, but I seem to remember Izzy playing as a gunner on the punt team.

Jack: Should a roster spot ever go to a special teams-only player (not counting kickers, snappers, and returners)? If so, how many roster spots can you justify?

Lester: I think it depends on how special a player we're talking about. The current Bears have two players that haven't been very good outside the 3rd phase, in Bellamy and McManis. Both excel as special teamers, but fans cringe when they are out on offense and defense respectively.

NEXT WEDNESDAY: the coaching staff

All statistics from pro-football-reference.com, unless otherwise noted.

AND NOW...

YOU BE THE JUDGE

Poll

Who is the best Bears special teams specialist in the post-Ditka era? (1993-2016)

This poll is closed

  • 64%
    Brendon Ayanbadejo
    (40 votes)
  • 0%
    Josh Bellamy
    (0 votes)
  • 3%
    Blake Costanzo
    (2 votes)
  • 4%
    Rashied Davis
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    Maurice Douglass
    (0 votes)
  • 14%
    Corey Graham
    (9 votes)
  • 3%
    Israel Idonije
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    John Mangum
    (0 votes)
  • 3%
    Adrian Peterson
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    Larry Whigham
    (0 votes)
  • 1%
    Cameron Worrell
    (1 vote)
  • 4%
    Other
    (3 votes)
62 votes total Vote Now

Poll

How many roster spots can you justify for special teams specialists? (Not including kickers, snappers, returners)

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    Zero
    (2 votes)
  • 50%
    1-2
    (28 votes)
  • 26%
    3-4
    (15 votes)
  • 1%
    More than 4
    (1 vote)
  • 17%
    Depends on talent
    (10 votes)
56 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Is Brendon Ayanbadejo worth a roster spot just for his special teams play?

This poll is closed

  • 94%
    Yes
    (49 votes)
  • 5%
    No
    (3 votes)
52 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Is Corey Graham worth a roster spot just for his special teams play?

This poll is closed

  • 78%
    Yes
    (37 votes)
  • 21%
    No
    (10 votes)
47 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Is Larry Whigham worth a roster spot just for his special teams play?

This poll is closed

  • 24%
    Yes
    (10 votes)
  • 75%
    No
    (31 votes)
41 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Is Blake Costanzo worth a roster spot just for his special teams play?

This poll is closed

  • 21%
    Yes
    (9 votes)
  • 78%
    No
    (33 votes)
42 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Is Adrian Peterson worth a roster spot just for his special teams play?

This poll is closed

  • 30%
    Yes
    (13 votes)
  • 69%
    No
    (29 votes)
42 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Is Israel Idonije worth a roster spot just for his special teams play?

This poll is closed

  • 51%
    Yes
    (21 votes)
  • 48%
    No
    (20 votes)
41 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Is Josh Bellamy worth a roster spot just for his special teams play?

This poll is closed

  • 45%
    Yes
    (20 votes)
  • 54%
    No
    (24 votes)
44 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Is Rashied Davis worth a roster spot just for his special teams play?

This poll is closed

  • 39%
    Yes
    (16 votes)
  • 60%
    No
    (25 votes)
41 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Is Cameron Worrell worth a roster spot just for his special teams play?

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    Yes
    (4 votes)
  • 89%
    No
    (35 votes)
39 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Is Sherrick McManis worth a roster spot just for his special teams play?

This poll is closed

  • 39%
    Yes
    (17 votes)
  • 60%
    No
    (26 votes)
43 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Is John Mangum worth a roster spot just for his special teams play?

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    Yes
    (6 votes)
  • 85%
    No
    (34 votes)
40 votes total Vote Now