|« Unit Breakdowns of Second Bears Preseason Game||Chicago Fire: On The Essence of Support »|
Bears Mon Aug 18 2014
Though he had a rough game last Thursday against the Jaguars, one bad preseason performance for an established veteran like Eric Weems typically isn't enough to merit a release. But that's precisely what the Bears did, cutting ties with the diminutive veteran and bringing in Santonio Holmes for what is essentially a two-week tryout.
With Marquess Wilson sidelined for a couple of months, the Bears had multiple wide receiver spots open, and guys that contributed positively on special teams would likely get the first nod. The kick return fumble last Thursday was a terrible start for Weems. On the non-fumbled returns, he showed very little burst and speed, failing to reach the 20-yard line on every attempt. Though he did contribute a fantastic down-field block for a teammate on offense, he also had some sort of miscommunication with Jay Cutler on one play that infuriated the QB, and in hindsight of his release, was likely Weems' fault.
Weems had been a part of Bears special teams unit that was wildly successful under former coordinator Dave Toub, with Devin Hester as the feature star in the return game. In that system, Weems could focus on blocking, covering kicks, and fielding a kick or two during the games opposing coaches decided to pooch it to one of the other ten players on the kick return team. With both Toub and Hester now gone, Joe DeCamillis was relying on Weems to shoulder the load. He simply couldn't do it, and the team was obviously fed up.
Though you'd figure the release of a player that was essentially a lock to make the roster would cause a massive amount of uncertainty and chaos, it might actually make the picture clearer. The Bears would love to roster only five receivers on opening day, and if they plan on keeping three quarterbacks on the roster, they probably can't afford to start out with six wideouts. Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and the aforementioned Wilson are locks, leaving two spots open. Josh Morgan is essentially the new lock to make the roster as the most reliable remaining veteran that you can trust to go out and make a catch. That leaves the final roster spot to a guy that can have some sort of impact in the return game.
Chris Williams was the odds on favorite coming into camp to lock down the future of the Bears return game. It was a sneaky late-year signing in 2013 by Phil Emery to secure the services of the CFL return star, and he made headlines with his 73-yard touchdown catch against the Eagles two weeks ago. But he suffered a hamstring pull on the play, and has yet to see the field since. The injury also robbed him of the chance to show off his return skills, which was the plan later in the Eagles game.
Holmes is a veteran with a terribly checkered history. He's been an impact player at times for both the Steelers and Jets, even winning the MVP award for Super Bowl XLIII. Unfortunately, he's also been charged with domestic violence and marijuana possession in his past as well, and has already been suspended once by league for drug use. The Steelers traded him for a fifth-round pick because they were sick of his antics, and Holmes later clashed with Mark Sanchez and the coaching staff in New York despite getting a huge contract and being named team captain.
He was an exceptionally skilled player in his prime, but at the age of 30, it's unknown if he has anything left in the tank. The third receiver job is a short-term one as the Bears are hoping to have Wilson back sometime around Week 4, which means that Holmes will likely need to battle with Williams and contribute on special teams to make the roster. He was a dynamic returner at Ohio State during his collegiate days, and also did some damage on special teams during his rookie season with Pittsburgh. The last time he's fielded more than just a few kicks in a season though, was in 2008. He won't have very much time to acclimate himself and make an impact.
With the Bears choosing not to re-sign Devin Hester in the offseason so they could spend money and his roster spot elsewhere, the team was left with a hole in the return game for the first time since 2005. They were hoping to fill his spot with a player that could contribute in more ways than just returning kicks and punts. So far, that plan has backfired. The Bears are now desperate to find anyone that can hang onto the football when the other team gives it to them. Holmes and Williams have two weeks to figure out if they can.