It was a different position at a different level, but kick returner Micheal Spurlock knows what it’s like to replace a legend.
“I was supposed to replace Eli Manning in college,” Spurlock said. “I mean, he was the first overall pick. You don’t try to replace him. You just do your job and try your best to put your team in good position.”
For Spurlock, putting the Bears in the best position doesn’t involve calling plays or breaking huddles. He’s one of several players vying to replace Devin Hester. And Spurlock is “the first one at bat right now,” as special-teams coach Joe DeCamillis put it, after Eric Weems was cut.
Hester’s unceremonious departure has cast a shadow over the group.
“A lot of people are like, You’ve got to replace Hester,” Spurlock said. “That’s where the problem lies. Everybody wants you to replace him. You’re not going to replace him. The guy is probably a Hall of Fame kick returner.”
Rule changes have diminished the overall value of returners, but a competent one can’t hurt. Hester provided coach Marc Trestman’s offense with good field position at times last season, averaging 27.6 yards on kick returns (sixth-best in the NFL) and 14.2 yards on punts (third-best).
The Bears’ competition to find a Hester successor has been a revolving door:
† Domenik Hixon, a veteran with 136 returns in his career, tore his anterior cruciate ligament during organized team activities.
† Weems, a Pro Bowl returner with the Falcons in 2010, didn’t impress in two preseason games and was released.
† Chris Williams, the intriguing speedster from the Canadian Football League, has resumed practicing after a minor hamstring injury cost him return opportunities this preseason. “I feel OK, working back day by day,” he said.
† Wide receiver Santonio Holmes was signed Saturday and was returning punts in practice Monday. “We’re just trying to find as much value in him as we can,” Trestman said.
† Darius Reynaud, who has returned 206 punts and kicks over six seasons, was signed Monday night and practiced Tuesday. “I still got a lot to show,” he said. “Whenever my opportunity comes up, I have to take it and run with it.”
The rest of the Bears’ specialists have been settled. Rookie punter Pat O’Donnell and long snapper Brandon Hartson have won their competitions, and their work with kicker Robbie Gould has increased.
But the competition at returner, which also features running back Michael Ford and wide receiver Armanti Edwards, continues.
“It’s just making plays,” Williams said. “That’s the name of the game.”
“I just try to make sure my worst day is still a good day,” Spurlock said.
If healthy, Williams appears to be first in line to challenge Spurlock, the former quarterback at Ole Miss who’s with his ninth team as a returner/receiver since 2006.
Spurlock has five punt returns for nine yards and one 19-yard kickoff return in two preseason games.
“Devin is Devin; you can’t ever really replace a guy like that,” Williams said. “But there is a job to do here, and somebody is going to step up and take that job, and somebody is going to do real well once they get it.”