By Brad Biggs, Chicago Tribune reporter
8:15 PM CST, November 30, 2012
The Bears touted Eric Weems for his return ability when he arrived in free agency and now he will get a chance to show his stuff.
With Devin Hester sidelined with a concussion and set to miss a game for only the fifth time in his seven-year career, Weems will be the primary returner Sunday against the Seahawks at Soldier Field. Weems could share responsibilities on punts but will be the primary man on kickoffs. He had five returns against the Vikings with a long of 27 yards.
"It was good to knock the dust off," special teams coordinator Dave Toub said. "I expect him to be a lot better this week. I expect him to take a little more of a jump and probably hit the ball a little bit faster up the field."
Hester will be missed. The Bears don't have a player whose contributions this season have been overlooked more than his. The team ranks No. 1 in the NFL in average starting field position on kickoffs at the 25.9-yard line. That's a direct result of teams' respect for Hester, who has averaged 25.5 yards on 18 kickoff returns with a long of 38. There have been squibs, bloops and just about everything imaginable that have helped the Bears gain a field-position edge without Hester scoring.
Weems averaged 25.7 yards in three seasons as a primary kickoff returner for the Falcons and reached the Pro Bowl after the 2010 season, just edging ex-Bears' special teams ace Corey Graham.
"He's a little bit more North-South (than Hester)," Toub said. "Good vision, strong, up-the-field player whereas Devin is going to try to make you miss, run around you and a lot of times get to the edge."
Weems also could factor some in the offensive plan with Alshon Jeffery still out after arthroscopic knee surgery. But his primary responsibility will be anchoring special teams. He has 10 tackles, trailing team leader Blake Costanzo by one. Weems was signed primarily to replace Graham and help on the coverage units.
"He has been great," Toub said. "He has been a leader for us. Him and Blake will go back and forth and they are always competing, who made the tackle, who didn't make the tackle? Who is getting doubled? Who isn't? And it's a lot of fun as far as the coverage goes. But it's good to get Weems in the return game, a little more active."
Weems said he is eager for his chance. The blocking scheme does not figure to change but he likely will attack returns differently.
"Guys have to block whatever they are able to block and the returner has to do his thing, finding a button to run off," he said. "I am ready. I had good practices all week in the return game. I just have to be patient, take what they give me and go for it."
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