LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- For all the concern over the Chicago Bears special teams in the preseason, Atlanta Falcons return man Eric Weems had a grand total of 43 combined yards on five total kickoff and punt returns in the 30-12 win on Sunday at Soldier Field. That's not to say a few hiccups won't pop up from time to time, but the rookies on special teams passed their first test.
But it's about to get tougher. The challenge this week is to slow down New Orleans' Darren Sproles, which teams around the NFL will tell you is easier said than done.
In his seventh year out of Kansas State -- his first season with the Saints -- Sproles leads all NFL players in all-purpose yards (rushing, receiving, punt return, kickoff return) since 2007. He burst out of the gate for New Orleans in its Week 1 defeat at Green Bay, returning a punt 72 yards for a touchdown, while also taking back a kickoff 57 yards.
Sproles also led the Saints with seven receptions.
"He's very dangerous," Bears special teams coordinator Dave Toub said. "He's so experienced, he's been doing it along time and is excellent at both. He just doesn't let the ball drop so we are going to have to cover every single kick. He's strong, runs north and south and breaks tackles. If we don't gang tackle him we are going to be in trouble."
Of course, the best line of defense against Sproles is kicking the ball deep or out of the endzone, something Bears kicker Robbie Gould did five times last week. But in the event Sproles is able to run back a kickoff, Toub is expected to lean on veteran special teams ace Corey Graham to contain the Saints speedy return man on the fast, artificial Superdome playing surface. Graham, who should garner serious Pro Bowl consideration if he stays healthy, recorded a team-high three special teams tackles versus the Falcons.
"Corey played excellent and was our points leader for Week 1," Toub said. "(Rookie) Chris Conte also really played well and did some good things on punt getting out real fast and caused the ball not to be fielded a couple times which really helped us."
The Bears should receive an added boost from the return of Sam Hurd, who sat out the first game with an ankle injury. Hurd was targeted by the Bears in free agency after he tallied a career-high 21 special teams tackles in 2010 for the Cowboys.
"Hurd will play gunner for us," Toub said. "He'll be a three or four phase player for us who adds more speed out there on those positions. We are really looking forward to seeing him."