Countdown to the 2014 NFL Draft: State of the Bears special teams

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A look at the state of the Bears’ special teams as the 2014 NFL Draft fast approaches.

The Good: Robbie Gould is still going strong, now entering his 10th season in the league. Gould converted on 89.7 percent of his field goals last season, his highest percentage since 2008. Gould’s leg strength has gotten progressively stronger over the years, which has aided the Bears with better field position as he’s putting more kickoffs into the end zone. The Bears struggled in special teams coverage last year because of injuries and poor depth on defense, a factor they should upgrade this year as they fill out their roster this offseason.

The Bad: Adam Podlesh was so bad last year — and, really, throughout his time as a Bear — that the Bears cut ties with the punter. The team brought in a pair of punters for competition in Tress Way and Drew Butler — son of former Bears kicker Kevin Butler. Hopefully one of them emerges as the man for the job, someone who can flip field position and give the defense some breathing room. The Bears also let Devin Hester walk, and the greatest kick returner in league history will now attempt to set the all-time record for kick returns in Atlanta. The Bears have a number of candidates in line to replace him in Eric Weems, Domenik Hixon, Michael Ford and Shaun Draughn. The Bears also could be moving on from long snapper, Patrick Mannelly, the franchise’s all-time leader in games played. Mannelly is a free agent recovering from offseason hip surgery and the Bears have two long snappers on the roster right now, first-year pro Brandon Hartson and former CFL’er Chad Rempel. Whether either of these guys can play the position at a high level in the NFL is a question mark, but it’s hard to replace a great like Mannelly.

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