Eddie Royal has returned one punt since Oct. 20, 2014.
The Bears’ slot receiver never stopped practicing, but knows games mean something different. He’s listed as the top punt returner on the Bears’ depth chart.
“Catching the ball is the most important part,” he said. “Setting up your blocks is key, I think, because a lot of guys, when you’re new back there, it’s hard to set up blocks. So you gotta do that and try to make a play.”
Special-teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers has seen it first-hand. In 2011, when both were with the Broncos, Royal replaced an injured returner in Week 5 — and took the first ball he saw 85 yards for a touchdown.
Whether Royal can re-create that magic — on returns or receptions — will be one many X-factors Sunday against the Texans. A concussion caused Royal to miss all four preseason games and prevented him from practicing in full for a 28 days.
“He’s played football long enough,” said quarterback Jay Cutler, who teamed with Royal in Denver. “It’s just getting a feel and feeling that contact because he probably hasn’t been hit in a while. Some of those things, there will be some kinks in the first quarter he’ll work out.”
Cutler’s not worried about his chemistry with Royal, who missed seven games last year due to injury.
“I mean I have thrown to Eddie enough,” Cutler said. “He is so friendly getting in and out of breaks, it makes it easy for you.”