Bears bracing for battle on special teams

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Offense and defense dominate most of the conversation about the matchup between the Chicago Bears and Cincinnati Bengals, but special teams could ultimately decide the winner in this one.

Special teams coach Joe DeCamillis and head coach Marc Trestman understand the challenge the Bears face Sunday when they host the Bengals at Soldier Field.

“Special teams is going to be huge,” Trestman said. “They’re sitting there with (Brandon) Tate and (Adam) Pacman Jones as their returners. They’re both exceptional. They’ve been as aggressive as any team in the National Football League in the last few years in faking field goals and making big plays. They’ve got speed on their team just like we do. They’ve got a punter (Kevin Huber) who can direct kicks and kicks it high. It’s the first of three left-footed punters we’re going to see over the next three weeks. That’ll be an issue just covering kicks and doing those types of things.”

Huber set Cincinnati’s record for gross punting average (46.6 yards) last season, as well as net average (42). In addition, Huber led the NFL last season in punts downed inside the 5 (11). During the preseason, Huber averaged 44.9 yards on punts (39.3-yard net), and hit three inside the 20 with no touchbacks.

Kicker Mike Nugent, who missed the last four games of 2012 with a calf injury, hit 19-of-23 attempts, including a 55-yarder against Oakland. The year before, Nugent set team records for field goals (33) and points (132).

“The field goal kicker is a real solid guy and the punter is a real solid guy,” DeCamillis said. “Darrin Simmons is the coach and does a great job. It’s going to be a heck of a challenge for us coming right out the gate.”

Tate is already Cincinnati’s career leader in punt return average (10.1 yards), and Jones, who didn’t return a punt in the preseason, has returned five punts for touchdowns during his career, including one last season. Only Chicago’s Devin Hester has returned more punts for TDs (12) than Jones among active players.

“They’ve got excellent returns,” DeCamillis said.

Jones ranked seventh in 2012 in punt return average (11.6 yards). Meanwhile, Tate averaged 24.8 yards on kickoff returns, and finished the preseason with a 30.5-yard average on four returns. Tate also returned a punt for a TD in the preseason.

“There’s a lot of issues on special teams,” Trestman said. “It’s going to be huge. We feel we’ve got good matchups. We feel it’s going to be a heck of a game from that standpoint.”