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Bears Notes: In Search Of Returns

Bears receiver Micheal Spurlock is competing for a role as kick/punt returner. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Bears receiver Micheal Spurlock is competing for a role as kick/punt returner. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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Chris Emma covers the college sports scene for CBSChicago.com,...
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By Chris Emma-

LAKE FOREST (CBS) — The old saying goes, one man’s loss is another man’s gain. In the case of the Bears’ search for special teams gain, it remains to be seen who that man is.

Veteran receiver and special teams role player Eric Weems was shown the door Saturday, opening up opportunities within the team. The Bears are still in search of a punt and kick returner, among many other vacancies.

With Weems out of the picture, the door is open for others.

“There are a lot of guys,” Bears special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said. “We just have to work through it and see who that guy is going to be that replaces his production.”

The leading contenders for return reps are Micheal Spurlock and Chris Williams, each of whom has seen playing time during the preseason.

Williams, a former return specialist in the Canadian Football League, was signed by the Bears last December off the Saints’ practice squad. The evaluation is ongoing.

“We just have to see him in some live-bullet situations to see how he’s going to catch punts in the National Football League, and kickoffs,” DeCamillis said. “We just got to see that. Hopefully we’ll get to see that.”

Perhaps a surprise contender is the newest Bear, Santonio Holmes, who was fielding punts in his first practice at Halas Hall. In replacing Weems’ roster spot, Holmes may take the returner’s spot that Weems was competing for, too.

“It’ll be one day at a time,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said.

Holmes is certainly well behind Williams and Spurlock, having just joined the Bears this past weekend. Yet the opportunity is there for the taking.

“We’re going to have to challenge some of those young guys to come through,” DeCamillis said. “We’ve got to see that in the next few games.”

The Bears once had a mainstay in their special teams with the explosive Devin Hester. They also had stability with a trusted veteran in Weems. Both are gone, and Chicago must find an answer.

Closer to continuity on defense

Speaking to reporters Monday, Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker was all smiles. The growing confidence was evident.

Tucker has seen his unit gaining continuity, with key questions turning into answers. With the season fast approaching, this is what he wants.

“The defense is revealing itself every day,” Tucker said.

Among the most encouraging sights for Tucker is witnessing the smooth transition for Tim Jennings, the Pro Bowl cornerback who has switched primarily to a nickelback role. With rookie Kyle Fuller joining Charles Tillman on the outside in the secondary, Jennings will take on a new task.

“He’s done a nice job,” Tucker said. “He seems to be getting more comfortable by the day with the reads at the nickel spot. There’s a lot going on there; it’s not the easiest place to play.”

Key concerns remain with some of the Bears’ familiar names. Chris Conte’s role — if any — with the team will be revealed in his only two preseason games. Shea McClellin and Jon Bostic have progressed at linebacker but leave many wanting more, receiving cautious praise from Tucker.

“He took a step forward,” Tucker said of McClellin. “Jon Bostic, same thing.”

As a unit, the Bears’ defense hopes to revitalize its identity as one of the NFL’s best and most physical groups, something lost in a tumultuous 2013 season. It all starts with technique, taught in camp. This is the time to learn.

“Our tackling has been solid so far,” Tucker said. “Tackling is one of those things you can’t take for granted.”

The little details will make all the difference come the season. The early returns have Tucker pleased.

Extra points

– Trestman offered some encouraging and concerning news on the injury front. Fuller (foot) is day-to-day. As for tackle Jordan Mills, his foot injury is also listed as day-to-day, but his extended absence has raised concerns as to whether he’ll be ready for Week 1. “Can’t answer that right now,” Trestman said.

– Linebacker Lance Briggs didn’t practice because of a knee contusion. Reserve offensive lineman Eben Britton (hamstring) and reserve defensive back Isaiah Frey (hamstring) also remained out.

– The addition of Holmes to the mix at receiver bolsters the Bears’ depth, creating competition for the unit. The job is open for Josh Morgan to get first crack at becoming the third receiver, Trestman said.

– Playing the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks in their raucous stadium this Friday is a new challenge in the Bears’ preseason, but Trestman downplayed the challenge. “We’re going there to play a preseason game, to continue to build our football team, and we’re working on it one day at a time,” he said.

– DeCamillis had plenty of praise for Weems, who was waived this past weekend. “He’s a great individual,” he said. “He’s exactly what football is about, in my opinion — just the way he conducts himself and the way he does things. At the end of the day, we have to get the best 53 for the Chicago Bears.”

– The Bears are back to work on Tuesday, practicing with a roster of more than 80 players at crowded Halas Hall.

Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.