Special teams were the difference for the Bears on Sunday against the Panthers, with Devin Hester chipping in a 73-yard kickoff return and a 69-yard punt return to go along with Julius Peppers blocking a field goal.
Special teams are often the difference for the Bears, and coach Lovie Smith says the reason for that is simple: His guys bust their butts in the kicking game, while there are other players around the league who take plays off on special teams.
“A lot of times you see an extra point blocked, or a field goal, you see teams go through the motions,” Smith said. “But we don’t do that. Our guys really go all out, and that block, of course, was a big play.”
For his part, Hester says Smith empowers the players to get excited about special teams, including letting Hester decide if he wants to take kicks out of the end zone, no matter how deep they are.
“When a returner has his head coach tell him that if it’s kicked 10 yards deep and I can jump up and catch it before it goes out of bounds and [I can] come out with it, that’s just how much faith he has in the return game as well as the blockers,” Hester said.
Hester also singled out Bears special teams coach Dave Toub for praise.
“Coach Dave is probably one of the best special teams coaches in the NFL,” Hester said. “He finds ways to utilize his players. Some could be undersized, some could be big. But he always finds a way to put them in the right position and it shows on game day. It helps out a lot.”
So, basically, the Bears have great players like Hester and Peppers and coaches like Smith and Toub who put those players in position to make plays, and the Bears hustle more than other teams in the kicking game. I guess that explains why they’re so good on special teams, so consistently.