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News » Toub more than a specialist

Toub more than a specialist

Toub more than a specialist
The question made Dave Toub bristle just a little.

The Bears' special-teams coordinator was asked if Danieal Manning's 83-yard kickoff return for a touchdown last week against the New Orleans Saints had given him a personal sense of relief. Questions about what was wrong with the special teams had been mounting for months, not weeks. It wasn't like the Bears to go three weeks without a return touchdown, and when three turned into four and four became eight, well, Toub found himself addressing the same issue:

What's the problem?

But with a middle wedge sweep right called on the opening kickoff, Saints kicker Garrett Hartley left the ball short and left. Toub couldn't have placed the ball in a better spot for Manning, who caught a few blocks and was in the open field in a burst, outracing the doubts and pressing questions about Devin Hester.

As Toub said a month ago, if the Bears' only problem on special teams is that they're not scoring, that's no reason for panic.

''We work on it all the time,'' Toub said. ''There's no personal sense of relief or anything. I'm not surprised he broke one.''

All of a sudden, Manning leads the NFL in kickoff returns with a 29.5-yard average, and the Bears rank eighth in comprehensive special-teams standings. They were No. 1 the last two seasons but lost Pro Bowl coverage specialist Brendon Ayanbadejo, who left for free-agent riches in Baltimore, and Hester isn't blazing his way through the record books this year.

''He's close to being back, the old Devin,'' Toub said. ''It wouldn't surprise me if he got a touchdown before the year is over.''

Hester gambled against the Saints, retreating on a punt return before being taken down by Roman Harper for a seven-yard loss.

''It was a bad decision,'' Toub said. ''But if he gets by that one guy, he's gone.''

If the Bears didn't have special teams as a backbone, there's no telling where they'd be. The offense ranks 25th, two spots ahead of where it finished last season, and the once-vaunted defense is 17th.

The loss of Ayanbadejo, who was named to the AFC Pro Bowl team this week, and the disappearance of Hester have not been the only issues. Core players Corey Graham and Nick Roach were promoted off Toub's unit early in the season. Brandon McGowan, Darrell McClover and leading tackler Garrett Wolfe all landed on injured reserve. Toub has worked with a new assistant, Chris Tabor, who replaced Kevin O'Dea when he left for the New York Jets.

''I wouldn't say it's been our most difficult year,'' Toub said. ''We've probably had [fewer] guys on IR, but we've had some turnover, key guys going down. That's the life of special teams. I can't say there's been more this year. I'm not sure that's the case.''

The case can be made that this has been Toub's best coaching job since he joined Lovie Smith's staff in 2004. He has put together a core group using two proven veterans -- running back Adrian Peterson and linebacker Jamar Williams -- and is getting four-phase production from rookies and previous unknowns such as Joey LaRocque, Craig Steltz and Trumaine McBride.

''Toub does a great job making sure we know the type of effort we have to put out there each week,'' Williams said. ''We haven't had the big returns, and we don't have the Pro Bowlers like we did last year, and we lost a lot of vets, but it has been a big testament to these young guys stepping up each week and getting better.

''If you take a look from Week 1 'til now, we've gotten so much better in every phase. That takes time, and at this point in the year to finally get everything clicking, it is huge. We know what kind of special teams we have, and that just goes to Dave Toub.''

Said Smith: ''We have players that really buy into special teams being a big part of our success and how we're going to win. We talk about it a lot. We put time into it. All of those things contribute to us being successful most games with our special teams.''

Ultimately, Toub would like to be a head coach, a move that could be facilitated by the success his mentor, John Harbaugh, has had in his first season in Baltimore. Harbaugh was the Philadelphia Eagles' special-teams coach for nine seasons before overseeing the secondary in 2007, then jumping to the Ravens' head-coaching job, dispelling a notion that special-teams coaches can't make the move quickly.

Mike Ditka's first job under Tom Landry with the Dallas Cowboys was as an offensive assistant and special-teams coach. Hall of Famer Marv Levy and Dick Vermeil were the NFL's first two special-teams coaches in the late 1960s. Bill Cowher's first coaching gig was as a special-teams coach.

''You're dealing with everyone on the team,'' said Levy, a part-time Chicago resident. ''In terms of background to become a head coach, it's as good as any other position there is. You become very conversant with what is happening on offense and defense on special teams.

''Toub has done a super job. I don't know that's really the case that it's difficult for a special-teams coach to move up to head coach. Really, it's a who's who of coaches who started on special teams.''

Comment at suntimes.com.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: December 19, 2008

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