Arguably the greatest returner of all-time, Devin Hester was not re-signed this off-season by the Bears. Now the team is stuck in a situation that they never wanted, being without a bonafide return man.
Eric Weems and Michael Ford both were given chances to earn the gig this preseason, but failed and were released in the process.
That leaves veteran Michael Spurlock along with CFL star Chris Williams and rookie Senorise Perry as the competitors for the job. Returner Darius Reynaud was cut Sunday after lasting on the roster only six days.
Spurlock and Reynaud are certainly the most polished of the four, but Williams excelled at a high level over in Canada, while Perry has been a solid returner dating back to his high school days in Georgia.
Inside the numbers
Spurlock: Career (81 punt returns for 780 yards (9.6 ypr) and 2 TD's, 107 kickoff returns for 2,594 yards (24.2 ypr) and 3 TD's); Preseason (5 punt returns for 9 yards (1.8 ypr); 2 kickoff returns for 37 yards (18.5 ypr).
Williams*: Career (90 punt returns for 1,198 yards (13.3 ypr) and 5 TD's, 12 kickoff returns for 252 yards (21.0) and 1 TD; Preseason (N/A).
Perry**: Career (8 kickoff returns for 210 yards (26.2 ypr); Preseason (2 kickoff returns for 51 yards (25.5 ypr).
* = CFL numbers
** = collegiate numbers
If I had to take a guess at how this situation plays out I would think that Spurlock or Williams would be the favorites because of their past accomplishments. However, this league is all about the saying what have you done for me lately.
It could be hard for the Bears to assess Williams since he hasn't yet returned a kickoff or punt this preseason. The 26-year-old impressed plenty with a 73-yard touchdown catch against the Eagles, but he suffered a hamstring injury on the play.
If Williams can make it back for the Cleveland game on Thursday, then he could get plenty of chances to return kickoffs and punts. He showed his value as a receiver, but the key to a roster spot for him is through special teams as Hester's replacement.
The 31-year-old Spurlock hasn't done much in terms of the return game, but much like Williams he showed his value in the preseason opener with a 22-yard touchdown grab. His last scores came in 2012 with San Diego, when he returned a punt and kickoff for touchdowns.
Spurlock needs a couple of nice returns this week to earn the job, if not he could be looking for another chance somewhere else.
Besides the fact that Perry, an undrafted free agent out of Louisville has averaged 4.1 yards per carry on 11 rushes this preseason, he has tremendous upside. The 22-year-old added a touchdown late against Jacksonville to win it for the Bears in game two.
Although Perry didn't return many kickoffs in college, just eight, he made the most of his opportunities there and last week against the Seahawks with two solid kickoff returns.
Perry was selected first-team All-State by the Associated Press as a return specialist in high school, but his season-ending knee injury in 2012 hurt his stock. If he continues his success on kickoffs this week, he could be a dark horse for a final roster spot like Ford was last season as the No. 4 running back.
Recently signed veteran receiver Santonio Holmes is most likely in town to compete for the No. 3 receiver spot, but he took snaps in practice last week as a punt returner. But don't get too excited, the 30-year-old has only six punt returns to his name since 2008.
Edwards is another interesting name, who hasn't been given a chance to return kickoffs or punts this preseason. Even if he does get one on Thursday, he's the biggest longshot to make the team out of everyone on this list.
The Bears will most likely look at the waiver wire for a talented returner if none of these players fail to excite in the preseason finale in Cleveland this week.
Final cuts are required to be made this Saturday, while initial cuts down to 75 players are to be made by Tuesday. The Bears informed 12 players of their releases on Saturday.
Thoughts on who will win the kick return job with Hester now in Atlanta?
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