Final installment of a 10-part series.
As we've detailed multiple times since the end of the season, the Chicago Bears face the possibility of having significant turnover on special teams.
That's nothing new. Personnel men will tell you it's important to turn over as much as one-third of the roster each year, and much of the change at the bottom of the depth chart involves players who are a part of special teams.
The Bears' top six tacklers on special teams all project to be unrestricted free agents, including Corey Graham, the reserve cornerback who led the team with 25 solo tackles. When you examine playing time on Dave Toub's unit, the picture becomes even more clear. Eight of the top nine participants on special teams project to be unrestricted with the lone exception being tight end Kellen Davis, who was second in special teams snaps with 309 out of a possible 442, according to statistics provided to the Tribune by an NFL source.
When you talk about nine of 10 players potentially departing, that's almost a complete coverage team right there. Add in the fact that punter Brad Maynard is unrestricted and the team has yet to approach him about a contract, and you start to wonder if it will be a rebuilding project more than a reloading project for Toub. Here are the complete special teams participation statistics:
Corey Graham 370 snaps, 83.7 percent
Kellen Davis 309, 69.9 percent
Rashied Davis 308, 69.7 percent
Brian Iwuh 301, 68.1 percent
Rod Wilson 292, 66.1 percent
Nick Roach 259, 58.6 percent
Garrett Wolfe 242, 54.8 percent
Josh Bullocks 228, 51.6 percent
Danieal Manning 191, 43.2 percent
Pisa Tinoisamoa 171, 38.7 percent
Israel Idonije 169, 38.2 percent
Brad Maynard 150, 33.9 percent
Pat Mannelly 148, 33.5 percent
Robbie Gould 142, 32.1 percent
Zack Bowman 130, 29.4 percent
Earl Bennett 123, 27.8 percent
Devin Hester 109, 24.7 percent
Craig Steltz 109, 24.7 percent
Henry Melton 87, 19.7 percent
Major Wright 77, 17.4 percent
Tim Jennings 69, 15.6 percent
Charles Tillman 69, 15.6 percent
Kevin Shaffer 66, 14.9 percent
Anthony Adams 65, 14.7 percent
Brandon Manumaleuna 65, 14.7 percent
Frank Omiyale 65, 14.7 percent
Julius Peppers 65, 14.7 percent
Brian Urlacher 65, 14.7 percent
Matt Toeaina 64, 14.5 percent
Lance Louis 63, 14.3 percent
Roberto Garza 58, 13.1 percent
Chris Williams 49, 11.1 percent
Devin Aromashodu 33, 7.5 percent
Josh Moore 32, 7.2 percent
Corey Wootton 29, 6.6 percent
Desmond Clark 22, 5.0 percent
Edwin Williams 18, 4.1 percent
Johnny Knox 16, 3.6 percent
Hunter Hillenmeyer 11, 2.5 percent
Mark Anderson 7, 1.6 percent
Johan Asiata 5, 1.1 percent
Greg Olsen 3, 0.7 percent
Chris Harris 2, 0.5 percent
D.J. Moore 2, 0.5 percent
Lance Briggs 1, 0.2 percent
Tommie Harris 1, 0.2 percent
J'Marcus Webb 1, 0.2 percent
The key number when it comes to Graham, who was a fifth-round draft pick in 2007, is two. That is the number of snaps he played on defense in 2010 after being on the field for 21.2 percent of the defensive snaps in 2009. Graham wants at least an opportunity to play defense.
"It's definitely a priority," Graham said. "I don't want to be known as just a special teams player. I want to go somewhere to get a chance to compete. I'm not asking for anything special. I'll see exactly what teams are interested in me and weigh my options."
Scouts from multiple teams have asked questions about Graham, and in what will be an overloaded free agency class, he figures to do well for himself. The Bears didn't feel so bad about watching linebacker Tim Shaw, who set a franchise record with 31 tackles, go before the start of last season because they knew Graham was an elite, Pro Bowl-caliber performer. Toub might not have that type of replacement waiting in the wings this time. That doesn't mean the Bears cannot go out and find that player, but the Bears don't have another Graham right now.
It would not be surprising if the Bears brought back wide receiver Rashied Davis on a modest deal. Lovie Smith talked him up at the NFL Scouting Combine, and Davis handled his role well. He saw less playing time on offense, but when he was used late in the season offensive coordinator Mike Martz also was complimentary. Factor in his value on special teams - he was third with 308 snaps - and it might be prudent to bring him back.
Linebackers Brian Iwuh, Rod Wilson and Nick Roach also figure to be unrestricted at a position where the Bears have no depth. Something could fall in line for one or more of these players. Fellow linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa wound up 10th in special teams snaps with 171. His situation will be addressed after the labor matter has been resolved.
It's worth noting that defensive end Israel Idonije, who had 832 snaps on defense, also got 169 snaps on special teams to rank 11th. That's serious double duty and a testament to his versatility and value.
Of the top guys Graham will be missed the most because I see no way for him to return since Lovie always ignores him when talking about his CB's. To me that's a poor move on Lovies part and just one more reason why I don't like his arrogance in the handling of certain situations.
Other than that I see R. Davis, Wilson, Bullocks, Wolfe, and probably Manning gone from this years ST coverage roster. That's 5-6 guys who'll need to be replaced most likely from the latter rounds of the draft and FA. I could tick off the names of several who only line up in blocking situations for XP's and FG's but that's no big deal having to replace them. We have quite a few spares already on the team.