Overheard from the bleachers at Bears’ Training Camp in August of 2010: “That guy?” An unnamed Bears fans asks his buddy and then points toward the practice field. “That’s Dave Toub. You don’t know who Dave Toub is?! He’s only the best special teams coach in the NFL. Read a forum, jackass.”
I don’t know who that mystery fan was, but I tend to agree with him. The Chicago Bears, it seems, tend to agree, too. In early 2011, the Bears offered Toub a one-year extension on his contract which would end after that season. He turned it down flat.
When Toub quickly became one of the most coveted free agent coaches in 2012, the Bears were forced to make him one of the highest paid special teams coordinators in game. It’s not a decision anyone expects them to regret.
Dave Toub joined the Bears as ST Coordinator in 2004 and spent his first couple years building what has been one of the League’s top ranked units since 2006.
According to Football Outsiders’ metric, the Bears’ special teams were ranked first in the League in 2006 and 2007, fifth in 2008, third in 2009, and first again in 2010 and 2011. That puts the Bears in the 94th percentile through their last six seasons.
Why are Bears fans so confident in their team this offseason? Because through those years of exciting special teams were the high and lows of the defense, and the mostly lows of the offense.
But heading into 2012, the Bears’ offense has been bolstered, and is in a primed position to finally capitalize on the exceptional special teams play. So, can we expect more of the same from Toub and the boys this season? “And then some,” I say.
While the Bears lost LB Brian Iwuh and WR Sam Hurd last season (Iwuh to injury, Hurd to . . . um, prison), two solid special teams performers, they’ve done a fantastic job replenishing their stock of go-to-gunners.
And of course, the biggest hit on Toub’s side of the ball this off-season was the loss of Pro Bowler Corey Graham to Free Agency. Corey led the League in special teams tackles in 2010. He led the Bears again in 2011, and is currently second in the NFL in special teams stops since his 2007 rookie season.
It’s not easy to replace that kind of production. Unless, of course, you go out and get some of the League’s other top-tier-talent.
At 6-1, 235 pounds, LB Blake Costanzo helped push the 49ers’ special teams unit from the 22nd-ranked unit in the NFL to the second-ranked with 17 special-teams tackles and four stops in the playoffs in 2011.
In the 49ers’ post-season win over the New Orleans Saints, Costanzo forced a fumble on a punt return and recovered a fumble on a kickoff return. He has 71 career ST tackles, four forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries.
In addition to Costanzo, WR Eric Weems was brought in to provide depth on offense and firepower in both the return and coverage units. In 2011, Weems returned 24 kickoffs for an average of 23.5 yards, 32 punts for 9.8 yards and also added 10 special teams tackles. He is also a former Pro Bowler.
Weems was, statistically, a more productive kick returner than Devin Hester last season, which makes fans wonder how long it will be before Hester goes back to full-time punt return duties.
"We can put Weems and Hester back there,” Toub said during mini-camp. “If they kick away from Devin, they'll kick it to Weems, and we'll be in good shape."
Other players from last season’s top unit remain with the team. Guys like Robbie Gould, Adam Podlesh, Pat Mannelly, Devin Hester, Dom DeCicco, Craig Steltz and others. Among the two mentioned above, other new prospects include Devin Thomas, Greg McCoy and Brandon Hardin.
"There are a lot of guys (we've signed and drafted) who have special teams ability," Toub said. "Phil considers that strongly. He understands that your fourth, your fifth guy, wide receiver or corner, have to have special teams ability. He gets it done."
While we may not yet know how the aging defense will perform in 2012, or how quickly Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall can recapture the Mile-High-Magic from Denver, one thing should be fairly certain: Toub’s special teams unit is going to remain truly special.