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Side Effect of Bears' Search for Speed

While looking for wide receivers and running backs, the Bears also had a side benefit and it could make them the deepest team in the league at something.

It's an offshoot of the Bears' need to find a wide receiver and to bolster the running back corps but they won't complain.

While searching for receiver and running back help, the Bears now might have the deepest group of return men in the NFL. 

At least they could lead the league in something positive.

Drafting Velus Jones at wide receiver and then Trestan Ebner provided them with two of the most dynamic college football return men and they already had a handful of potentially effective players manning those spots. As a result, special teams coordinator Richard Hightower is going to be able to pick and choose.

"So, it's a good problem to have," Hightower said.

Hightower and scouts watched video of Jones, who ran 4.31 seconds in the 40-yard dash, and saw a breakaway threat not only receiving the ball but returning it

"We looked at every return that he's ever returned a football and then we also look at the ones where he fair-caught them," Hightower said. "So, not one specifically. You just look at every different one and you look at decision making and see what type of decisions he makes.

"Is he fearless? Does he catch the ball? Does he get vertical? Is he aggressive, and is he a guy that you want to add to your football team? And we all felt that way, so we're excited to have him. I think he's excited to be here and that shows through his preparation in meetings and that showed on the field as well."

Here's what they now have as potential return men. It's almost enought to make them forget they had Jakeem Grant last year and both Tarik Cohen and Cordarrelle Patterson for two years before that as high-level return men.

Almost.

WR Velus Jones

Returned 122 kicks for Tennessee and USC for 2,973 yards, a 24.4-yard average, and two touchdowns. He also returned some punts, not a great amount, but was extremely effective with a 15.1-yard average for 18 returns. It's possible he'll do both for the Bears. As Hightower said: "I envision anybody that has a helmet on that's a returner doing both. So if anyone has a helmet on, we’re going to train them at both and then we'll see what they can do best and we'll put the best guy out there that helps the Bears be successful."

RB Trestan Ebner

Averaged 25.3 yards for 47 kick returns with three touchdowns at Baylor, annd also returned 28 punts for a 6.8-yard average and one TD.

"He's really quick-twitch," Hightower said. "He covers the ball up well. He protects the ball well, which is good for a young player. When he's running with it, he protects it well. You can see that even in the offensive drills when I'm watching on the side sometimes. But so he's got speed and explosiveness and he's eager."

RB Khalil Herbert

Besides running for 433 yards last year, Herbert returned 27 kicks for the Bears and averaged 24.1 yards. In college, he had averaged 26.9 yards for 18 kick returns. As backup running back now, the team might want to cut back o his returns, although that's yet to be seen.

WR Byron Pringle

For Kansas City in the last three seasons, he returned 37 kicks and averaged an outstanding 26.6 yards with one TD. Last season for the Chiefs he had 25 of the 37 returns for a 24.8-yard average. Like with Herbert, Pringle performs a vital role on offense as the No. 2 receiver, at least until Jones learns the NFL game well enough to ascend the rookie ladder. So he might not get the chance on kick returns.

RB Darynnton Evans

Returned 56 kicks for a 25.7-yard average with three touchdowns at Appalachian State, then went to the Titans in Round 3 of the 2020 draft and suffered through two injury marred seasons. He missed all of his 2017 college season with an injury to the muscle behind the knee joint, then recovered and in the NFL missed the first two games of 2020 wth a hamstring injury. He went on injured reserve for eight games when he aggravated that injury. In 2021 he suffered a knee sprain in preseason and missed six games, then injured it again in Week 7 and went on season-ending injured reserve.

RB De'Montre Tuggle

An undrafted free agent for Ohio University who excelled as a back but also returned 28 kicks for a 24.1-yard average with two touchdowns.

WR Dazz Newsome

Returned six punts at season's end for a 12.5-yard average after coming off the practice squad as a rookie. The previous year at North Carolina he finished up a career in which he averaged 11.1 yards per 48 punt returns, including one TD. In 2018 he had averaged 15.1 yards with that TD.

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WR Dante Pettis

Set an NCAA record with nine punt return TDs while at Washington, then wasn't used as much on returns and wasn't effective when he was with the 49ers and Giants. He has returned 41 NFL punts for a 3.2-yard average.

WR David Moore

A punt returner at times besides catching passes for the Seahawks, Moore returned 22 in Seattle and then three in Green Bay last year. He has averaged 8.8 yards a return.

WR Nsimba Webster

He spent most of last year on the practice squad with the Bears but did get to return four punts for only a 3.3-yard average. He spent two seasons with the Rams before that and has averaged 6.0 yards on 36 NFL punt returns. He also returned 18 kicks for the Rams for a 22.4-yard average.

WR Chris Finke

Former Notre Dame standout who signed as a street free agent with the Bears, he returned 73 punts for the Fighting Irish for an 8.2-yard average.

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