Sherrick McManis has one of the most unsung jobs on the Bears. Not just being the veteran ace of the special teams units, but “coaching up” a group of young newcomers — many of whom have little experience on special teams and/or have higher hopes of becoming position players — to not just do the job, but to embrace the job.
“My goal as a veteran is to show these guys to have some passion for this,” said McManis, a former all-Big Ten cornerback at Northwestern who is in his seventh NFL season, his fifth with the Bears. “Whether your the first-round draft pick or a late-round pick, special teams should be something you want to get your hands in. This could be their ticket. It could be the difference between making the team or not making the team.
“As veterans, our job is to let them know … special teams is not just something to get through when it comes to practice. You want to excel. You want to succeed and thrive in this. It’s been doing me good these last seven years.”
McManis’ team-first attitude comes with one hitch. If he gets enough of them to buy-in and excel, succeed and thrive, it could cost him his own job. And he knows it.
“When you’re younger it could be really awkward,” McManis said. “When I was younger the mentality was, ‘I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do for me to make the team.’ As an older player now, it’s like, ‘I’m going to do what I can do be the best I can be and help out the team the best I can.
“I care about myself and me making the team. But I’ve got to bring as many people with me, because if we’re going to make the playoffs and get this championship, we’re going to need everybody on that roster to contribute and play hard. So for me, it’s easy now. That’s what you have to do to have a great team.”
That selfless approach is more common than not in NFL training camps. “Because we’re all professionals,” safety Chris Prosinski said. “Yeah, we are competing, but at the same time, we’re all in it for one cause.”
And it seems to be extremely high at this Bears camp — a credit to coach John Fox, some players say, for promoting an esprit de corps not found on every NFL team. But one fact cannot be ignored: there are 90 players on the roster and only 53 will make the active roster, plus 10 practice-squad players. And with the third preseason game coming up, it’s getting closer to nitty-gritty time, when your teammate’s great play can be a death-knell for your roster chances. And coaching up that undrafted rookie or late-round pick can mean there’s no room for you. How can human nature not take over in that situation?
“I’ve seen guys before where you can tell that they’re not really pulling for you, just because of the competition part of it,” said Prosinski, who started five games at safety last year but figures to be on the bubble after the Bears drafted safeties Deon Bush and DeAndre Houston-Carson this year. “But I haven’t seen that at all on this team, which I think is something special.”
“It’s really not difficult. My approach is, I’m going to help rookies and whoever — whether it’s the playbook or anything. I would never try to short a guy just to win the spot or make them look bad. I’m going to help them as much as I can. If they win the job, it’s gonna happen. So I would never do that.”
That approach has been passed on from one NFL generation to the next. Prosinski remembers getting tutored by Rashean Mathis as a rookie in Jacksonville. For safety Demontre Hurst, it was Alan Ball and Tracy Porter.
When I a was a rookie, we had Nate Collins, who was coming of an ACL,” said defensive tackle Will Sutton. “But he coached me and Ego [Ferguson] up. We hung out with Nate. He was a real good guy. And he coached us up and it just so happened that he didn’t make the team.”
Now its Sutton and Ferguson who could be on the bubble, but willing to lend a hand to somebody who might take his job.
“No hesitation — that’s just how it is,” Sutton said. “This is the NFL. It’s a business. It’s all about production. If a guy has all the talent in the world, you want to help him out — even if there’s a chance of him making the squad and you don’t. But that just makes your game elevate. That’s all it is. Everybody wishes everybody the best.”
It almost defies human nature, but NFL players are conditioned to root for their teammates and not worry about the consequences.
“Guys do handle it differently,” wide receiver Marc Mariani said. “But our room is really good. This is a special group. The friendship goes beyond the football field. When we push each other it’s only going to make us better. I truly believe the friendships we have are making us a better unit. Guys are just fighting every day and I’m rooting for every one of them.
“You learn that you can’t worry about that stuff. It can overwhelm you. I’ve learned to let that stuff go and focus on what I can do, how I can better — not focus on what somebody else making a play and what that means for me. We all know what’s coming up … but I learned long ago to control the things I can control. How can I be better and push myself every day? If you’ve got 90 guys pushing themselves every single day to get better, you’re going to have a hell of a football team.”