Bears issue at hand: The kick coverage, minus Ayanbadejo

Haven't done one of these in a few weeks because of a combination of baseball, Gale Sayers and blanket coverage by the Tribune reporting staff.

But someone contacted me sometime in the past month -- either through email or the Bear with Us comment board, I can't remember which -- about how the Bears' kick coverage appears to be missing Brendon Ayanbadejo. Is there a difference?

Running back Garrett Wolfe: "Not personally, and I don't think that anyone else plays any different. I think Jamar Williams has kind of assumed Brendon's role and Jamar Williams, I think, is our leader on kickoffs. That's where Brendon made a huge difference, was on kickoffs and I think Jamar has kind of assumed that role. Jamar is a guy who played really close with Brendon, so who better to learn from Brendon than Jamar?"

Special teams coordinator Dave Toub: "Brendon, not only was he good on kickoff coverage, he was also good on punt coverage. Jamar is the same. He's playing a lot of the same positions that he played, we're asking him to do a lot of the same things, and Jamar is doing a nice job for us. … Jamar is just as good a cover guy as far as getting down the field and making plays on kickoff and punt. But the area he needs to work on, he'll be the first to tell you, is in the return game as far as being in the proper position all the time to make the blocks."

Losing Ayanbadejo shouldn't be that big a deal, since special teams are pretty fluid throughout the NFL. The Bears' core through 2005 and 2006 included Ayanbadejo, Adrian Peterson, Cameron Worrell and Israel Idonije. (At least, those were the four names mentioned most by Colts special teamers during Super Bowl week and those were the four guys who frequently headed the "kickoff hit chart" in the Halas Hall auditorium.)

The Bears lost Worrell after 2006 and Ayanbadejo last off-season. Peterson had a reduced role toward the end of 2007 because he was the starting running back after Cedric Benson went down. Idonije has a reduced role this season because of his insertion into the defensive tackle rotation. What's the hardest part of coaching with this level of fluidity?

Toub: "The hardest part is dealing with injuries game day because there are only 45 guys that are up. If a starter got hurt, a corner got hurt, that means a corner that would be a four-phase player on special teams is now a starter on defense. I have to find a guy that's never practiced and basically a guy that's kind of an unknown, you have to coach him up on the sideline during the game. It's the game-time adjustments that are the toughest thing for us."

So the Bears have their replacement in line for Ayanbadejo, but what about Idonije? He's listed as 6 feet, 6 inches and 297 pounds and can get down the field in a hurry. How do you replace that?

Wolfe: You can't really replace a guy like that because of the havoc he was able to cause, but what you can do as a team is just get a bunch of guys that are fast and a bunch of guys that swarm to the ball.

Toub: "Izzy, he's put on about 15-20 pounds, so that's probably the main reason why you haven't seen him on kickoff. He's playing defensive tackle right now, so that's kind of a different body that you have."

Despite the fluidity on special teams and lack of a perennial Pro Bowler, the unit has scored just as many touchdowns through seven games as they did last year. And that's one more than through seven games in 2006. It's just they've done it a bit differently than they did the past two seasons. What's the bigger reason, opponents changing their approach because of Devin Hester or the Bears altering their scheme assuming teams wouldn't kick to Hester?

Toub: It's not so much that we changed our scheme. Teams are scheming against us a little bit, that's part of it. We've got some different guys, some young players, that's part of it. The amount of touches that Devin has gotten, that's part of it.

Wolfe: "Having Devin sitting back there changes a lot because a lot of people don't want Devin to get the ball, so that changes a lot of things as far as field position. As far as going out there and blocking kicks, that's something that has to do with coach Toub's ability to spot weaknesses and exploit them. That's something we try to do more than last year."

Finally, Wolfe is a highly successful college running back who's making his way in the NFL on special teams. Sounds a little like Peterson. Did he learn anything from Peterson?

"Me and Adrian are different in size and different in speed and things like that," Wolfe said. "The things that I use for my advantage on special teams, I just use my speed because I'm faster than everybody, more agile than anybody. Instead of letting people get their hands on me, I just make it hard for anybody to get close to me because with me being a smaller guy, if someone gets their hands on me, it may be harder for me to get off as opposed to a guy who's bigger and has longer arms."