By Chris Emma–
Editor’s note: This is the ninth entry in a series of positional previews leading up to the start of Bears training camp. Find the rest of them here.
(CBS) Jay Cutler chucked when thinking about it. He’s the second-longest tenured Bears player behind only one man.
Of course, kickers tend to last a long time — at least the good ones do. It comes as no surprise that Robbie Gould is back for his 12th season with the Bears, because he remains one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history.
Despite a rough 2015 season that saw several missed kicks at inopportune times, Gould still connected on 84.6 percent of his field goals. Fans will remember the miss against the 49ers, which led to an overtime loss, but Gould also hit the game-winner to beat the Raiders earlier in the season.
The 34-year-old Gould leads a special teams unit that’s largely the set in structure entering the 2016 season. Let’s take a look:
Kicker: Robbie Gould
A career 85.4 percent kicker with the Bears, Gould first entered the fold in the 2005 season. He came to Chicago as a virtual unknown and will be remembered as one of the team’s best kickers ever.
Gould is a beloved teammate and leader for the Bears in addition to being the reliable kicker.
Entering training camp, Gould is the Bears’ only kicker on the roster.
Punter: Pat O’Donnell, Ben LeCompte
Two years ago, then-general manager Phil Emery made the interesting move to draft a punter. It’s a rarity in the football world, something that immediately raised eyebrows.
Last season, O’Donnell ranked 24th in football with a 44.2-yard average on his punts. His long went for 72 yards, reminding of his nickname, “The Mega-Punt,” but he also had many clunkers.
O’Donnell’s spot on the roster is far from safe because of those inconsistencies. The Bears brought in LeCompte, aNorth Dakota State product, to challenge O’Donnell for the starting job.
An undrafted free agent, LeCompte looked impressive in OTAs and mini-camp. He could overtake O’Donnell for the job.
Long Snappers: Aaron Brewer, Patrick Scales
Ah, how the Bears miss the work of Patrick Mannelly.
Ever since Mannelly left the organization, they’ve struggled to find stability at long snapper. There’s now another battle for the job set to take place.
Scales joined the Bears for five games last season, clicking well with Gould. Brewer joins the Bears as an interesting candidate to take the job, coming over as a four-year starter of 16 games each season with the Broncos.
Ultimately, Gould could have a say in who wins the job.
Returner candidates: Deonte Thompson, Marc Mariani, Kieran Duncan
The sudden release of Omar Bolden last week created uncertainty for the Bears’ return game.
How special teams coordiantor Jeff Rodgers decides to operate remains to be seen. The Bears have two returners rejoining the team in Mariani and Thompson. While Mariani struggled at times, he’s still a candidate to return kicks or punts.
A midseason free agent signing in 2015, Thompson merged as a greater threat and more consistent returner toward the end of the season.
Duncan is an intriguing name to follow, having allegedly been clocked at an unofficial 4.25 40-yard dash at his pro day with Colorado State-Pueblo.
We’ll soon see how the special teams unit shakes out.