How journeyman Sherrick McManis kept Bears’ Peanut Punch tradition alive

“I feel like Sherrick is ‘Peanut’ reincarnated,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “He’s keeping it going.”

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Bears cornerback Sherrick McManis forced a fumble against the Raiders.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Despite sitting in a somber locker room Sunday, cornerback Prince Amukamara allowed himself to be amazed. A minute into the fourth quarter, with the Bears leading by four, fellow cornerback Sherrick McManis forced Raiders wide receiver Trevor Davis to fumble right before the goal line by punching at the ball with his right fist.

Sound familiar?

“I feel like Sherrick is ‘Peanut’ reincarnated,” Amukamara said. “He’s keeping it going.”

Cornerback Charles Tillman, who had 44 forced fumbles in his 13-year career, spread his Peanut Punch technique like Johnny Appleseed.

But McManis is the only Bears defensive player to actually have shared the field with the retired Tillman. They played together from 2012 to 2014 before Tillman left to spend his last season with the Panthers. 

McManis is in his 10th season, and eighth with the Bears, because of his special-teams prowess, not his defensive-back skills. It was the second time he has forced a fumble and his first since 2011, when he was with the Texans.

But he keeps the Peanut Punch tradition alive by spreading it to Bears defenders who joined the team after him. Which is, well, everyone. 

It has worked. No team in the NFL has recovered more fumbles this season than the Bears, who have six. That wasn’t the case last year when, despite leading the NFL with 36 takeaways, the Bears only recovered nine fumbles, tied for 14th-most in the league. 

Amukamara and McManis have forced one this year.

“The guy who’s been around here the longest, Sherrick McManis, probably does it the best,” cornerback Buster Skrine said.

Skrine — in his ninth NFL season but first with the Bears — said every team teaches some sort of forced-fumble technique.

“But there’s more emphasis here because ‘Peanut’ played here,” Skrine said. “He did a great job of it. Sometimes he gets run over and still gets it out. It’s an art. He would literally jab down at the ball. He would punch down at the ball. Most people knock down with the bottom of their fist, but he hits it with his knuckles.”

It takes impeccable timing. Secondary coach Deshea Townsend joked that, like in boxing, the six-inch punch is the one that knocks you out.

“It depends on the kind of angle you have and your position,” McManis said. “You can hit down; you can hit through. The way you hit the ball is not all about just pure brute force.

“Focusing on it gives you an opportunity. Practicing it gives you a better chance. And executing it during the game is pretty awesome.”

McManis admits not everyone listens to what he teaches.

“A lot of people get taught, but you gotta execute,” he said. “It’s about the execution, and you’ve got to have some good hand-eye coordination.”

The Bears practice forcing fumbles each week in practice. But so does every other team.

“We had a great mentor before I got here in Charles . . . he did that about every play,” Townsend said. “That thing carries on the same tradition — some of the fumble drills we do, stripping for the ball.”

There are perils to doing it the wrong way. Townsend has 13 screws and three plates in his hand because, as a member of the Steelers in 2004, he tried to uppercut the ball and instead landed a shot to someone’s elbow. 

“It was not,” he said, “a Peanut Punch.” 

Skrine broke his hand trying to punch the ball out of wide receiver Miles Austin’s arms during a 2014 practice when both played for the Browns.

“The football is hard,” Skrine said.

McManis is trying to help his teammates make it look easy.

“ ‘Peanut’ will always have a legacy here and throughout the league,’’ McManis said. “No one’s done it better than him. 

“I just try to emulate what he taught. And that’s it.”

NOTE: The Bears cut quarterback Tyler Bray and re-signed tight end Bradley Sowell, the former offensive tackle.

It’s a good sign for Mitch Trubisky’s availability against the Saints, though Bray is expected to rejoin the practice squad. 

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