It’s a consequence of the Bears needing to find a wide receiver and build up the running back corps, but they won’t complain.
While looking for help at receiver and running back, the Bears may now have the deepest group of returning 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 college football’s most dynamic returning men and they already had a handful of potentially effective players in those positions. As a result, Special Teams Coordinator Richard Hightower will be able to pick and choose.
“So that’s a good problem to have,” Hightower said.
Hightower and scouts watched video of Jones running 4.31 seconds into the 40-yard dash and watching a breakaway threat not only receive the ball but also pass it back
“We looked at every return he’s ever returned a football to, and then we also look at the ones where he caught them fairly,” Hightower said. “So not one in particular. You just watch each one of them and you watch the decision-making and see what kind of decisions they make.
“Is he fearless? Does he catch the ball? Is he vertical? Is he aggressive and is he a guy you want to add to your football team? And we’ve all felt that, so we’re thrilled to have him. I think he’s delighted to be here and it shows through his preparation in meetings and it shows on the pitch as well.”
Here’s what they have as potential comeback men now. It’s almost enough to make them forget they had Jakeem Grant last year and Tarik Cohen and Cordarrelle Patterson for two years prior as their top returning men.
WR Velus Jones
Returned 122 kicks for Tennessee and USC for 2,973 yards, averaging 24.4 yards and two touchdowns. He also returned a few punts, not many, but was extremely efficient averaging 15.1 yards on 18 returns. It’s possible he’ll do both for the Bears. As Hightower said, “I imagine anyone who wears a helmet is a turner who does both. So if somebody has a helmet, we’ll train them in both, and then we’ll see what they can do. better and we’ll put in the best guy who helps the Bears succeed.”
RB Trestan Ebner
Averaged 25.3 yards for 47 punt returns with three touchdowns at Baylor, and also returned 28 punts for an average of 6.8 yards and a touchdown.
“He’s very quick,” Hightower said. “He covers the ball well. He protects the ball well, which is good for a young player. When he runs with it, he protects it well. You can see that even in attacking drills when I look to the side sometimes. But so he has speed and explosiveness and he is impatient.”
RB Khalil Herbert
Along with rushing for 433 yards last year, Herbert returned 27 kicks for the Bears and averaged 24.1 yards. In college, he averaged 26.9 yards for 18 kick returns. As a backup running back now, the team might want to reduce their returns, though that remains to be seen.
WR Byron Pringle
For Kansas City over the past three seasons, he returned 37 kicks and averaged 26.6 yards with a touchdown. Last season for the Chiefs, he made 25 of 37 returns for an average of 24.8 yards. As with Herbert, Pringle plays a vital role on offense as the No. 2 receiver, at least until Jones learns the NFL game well enough to move up the rookie ranks. So he might not get the chance to come back on kicks.
RB Darynton Evans
Returned 56 kicks for 25.7 yards with three touchdowns at Appalachian State, then went to the Titans in the third round of the 2020 draft and suffered two injury-plagued seasons. He missed his entire 2017 college season with a muscle injury behind his knee joint, then recovered and in the NFL missed the first two games of 2020 with a hamstring injury. He went on the injured list for eight games when he aggravated that injury. In 2021, he suffered a knee sprain in preseason and missed six games, then injured again in Week 7 and remained on season-ending injured reserve.
RB De’Montre Tuggle
An undrafted free agent for Ohio University who excelled as a defenseman but also returned 28 kicks for an average of 24.1 yards with two touchdowns.
WR Dazz Newsome
Returned six punts late in the season for 12.5 yards after leaving practice as a rookie. The previous year at North Carolina, he finished a career in which he averaged 11.1 yards on 48 punt returns, including a touchdown. In 2018, he averaged 15.1 yards with that TD.
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WR Dante Pettis
Set an NCAA record with nine punt return touchdowns at Washington, then didn’t get used on returns as much and wasn’t effective when he was with the 49ers and Giants. He returned 41 NFL punts for an average of 3.2 yards.
WR David Moore
A punt returner at times in addition to catching passes for the Seahawks, Moore returned 22 in Seattle and then three in Green Bay last year. He averages 8.8 yards per return.
WR Nsimba Webster
He spent most of last year on the practice squad with the Bears, but managed to return four punts for just 3.3 yards. He spent two seasons with the Rams before that and averaged 6.0 yards on 36 NFL punt returns. He also returned 18 kicks for the Rams for an average of 22.4 yards.
WR Chris Finke
A former Notre Dame star who signed as a street free agent with the Bears, he returned 73 punts for the Fighting Irish for an average of 8.2 yards.