As a core special-teams player, Sherrick McManis is used to his contributions generally being overlooked. He led the Bears with 13 special-teams tackles last year — the fourth consecutive season he has been first or second on the team. But you have to look it up to know it.
“A lot of fans see defense, offense and maybe kick returners on special teams,” said McManis, who’s entering his eighth year in the NFL and sixth with the Bears. “[But] that’s why you play the game. Everything is evaluated. And if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be in the league as long as I have been. Everything is seen. That’s why I enjoy it so much.”
It’s one thing for the numbers to be overlooked, but even league-wide recognition for McManis was swept under the rug. As it turns out, he was a Pro Bowl alternate for the NFC team last season, one of three behind the Giants’ Dwayne Harris.
Neither the NFL nor the teams announce Pro Bowl alternates, which is not a big deal in most cases. But even that relatively modest recognition is big for special teams. Five of the 16 starting quarterbacks in the NFC made the Pro Bowl last season (including two as alternates). But excluding specialists, only one special-teams “ace” is chosen.
“It wasn’t big headlines at all,” McManis said. “But at the same time, for me, it wasn’t good enough. My first goal is to do what I need to do to help this team win. It sounds like a cliché, but I want to win. I feel like that’s the culture we’re building here.
“And then you’ve got personal goals, All-Pro, Pro Bowl — the good guys that are on the team, that’s who I look at and see how they’re playing the game. That’s all part of competing and having fun at what you do.”
Special teams have been McManis’ ticket since he entered the NFL with the Texans as a fifth-round pick out of Northwestern in 2010. Traded to the Bears in 2012, he’s the last player left from the Lovie Smith era. But even after a near-Pro Bowl season in 2016, he’s back in the same spot as always, fighting for his spot on the roster.
McManis has defined value as a consistently productive core special-teams player. But as the Bears have overhauled the roster under general manager Ryan Pace, even the veteran spots could be precarious as those younger and theoretically more athletic players develop.
“Who knows? That’s out of my control, and I don’t worry about that,” McManis said. “I just worry about putting good tape on film, doing what I’ve been doing throughout my career, and so far it’s gotten me in a good place.”
Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.