Bears 2022 STs review: Cairo Santos takes step back

The Chicago Bears wrapped the 2022 season with a 3-14 record, which culminated in a 10-game losing streak. But there’s still reasons to be optimistic about the future, including a boatload of salary cap space, the first overall pick in the 2023 NFL draft and the emergence of quarterback Justin Fields.

Here at Bears Wire, we’re going position by position through the 2022 Bears and grading every player. We close out the position series by looking at the special teams players, who took a collective step back last season.

K Cairo Santos: B

Sep 25, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bears kicker Cairo Santos (2) runs off the field after kicking the game-winning field goal against the Houston Texans at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

Season stats: 21/23 field goals (91.3%), 27/32 extra points (84.4%)

When it comes to field goals, Cairo Santos was as consistent as ever. He missed just two kicks all year long and went 4/5 from beyond 50 yards, a distance that has plagued him in the past. Where he had issues, however, was kicking extra points. Santos missed five point-after attempts, easily the most he’s had in a season and they all came at Soldier Field. Granted, two of them came during the Week 1 monsoon but it was a problem that persisted throughout the year at home.

Even with some struggles, Santos is still reliable and the Bears don’t want to put themselves through another kicker carousel. He’ll be the tenth highest-paid kicker next season, but it’s money well spent when you’re converting over 90% of field goal attempts.

P Trenton Gill: C-

Nov 27, 2022; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; Chicago Bears punter Trenton Gill (16) gets ready for the game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Wexler-USA TODAY Sports

Season stats: 46.0 yards per punt, 30.3% inside 20-yard line

The Bears had a new punter for the first time in eight seasons when they selected Trenton Gill in the seventh round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Gill graded out as a below-average punter in various categories. He averaged 46 yards per punt, good for 23rd among punters and had 39.6 net yards per punt, 29th among punters. Gill also had one punt blocked that was returned for a touchdown.

It was a so-so debut for Gill, who does provide versatility as a place kicker. But his rookie year was nothing to write home about. Hopefully he can build strength in his leg going into Year 2.

LS Patrick Scales: A

Chicago Bears long snapper Patrick Scales works on the field during the NFL football team’s voluntary minicamp at Halas Hall in Lake Forest, Ill., Wednesday, April 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Season stats: 4 tackles

The real reason why Patrick Scales gets such a high grade is strictly for the vibes he provides. Scales is a team leader, whether he’s there for his kicker after a tough miss or a game-winning field goal, or when he’s celebrating his tail off following a takeaway. He was also the only player on the team to receive a single All-Pro vote, so he’s got that going for him too.

In all seriousness, Santos has praised Scales for the commitment to his craft. He always has the best placement when it comes to the laces and he has a great rapport with the other specialists. Scales is once again a free agent but it would be a surprise to not see the longest-tenured Bear back for his ninth season.

KR Velus Jones Jr.: B-

Nov 27, 2022; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; Bears wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. (12) is shown before the game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Wexler-USA TODAY Sports

Season stats: 22 kick returns, 607 yards (27.6 yards per return); 5 punt returns, 35 yards (7.0 yards per return), 2 fumbles

Once the Bears realized Velus Jones could only return kicks and not punts, things went great for them. Before that, it was a disaster. Jones struggled mightily fielding punts, fumbling away two of his five returns. As a kick returner, however, he had much more success. Jones had multiple long returns, including a 63-yard return late in the year against the Detroit Lions.

The Bears hope Jones’ role on offense grows after a strong finish to the season. At worst, he’ll be relied on to return kicks and he’s shown to be dangerous at times.

PR Dante Pettis: C+

Jan 8, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bears wide receiver Dante Pettis (18) runs after a catch during the first quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports

Season stats: 18 punt returns, 163 yards (9.1 yards per return)

After experimenting and failing with Jones returning punts, the Bears turned to Dante Pettis, who had an easier time filling the role. Pettis averaged two more yards per return than Jones overall but averaged more than 10 yards per return in seven games. Most importantly, he didn’t turn the ball over when making returns.

Pettis was no Devin Hester, or even Jakeem Grant from last year. But he was able to do the job well enough. He’s a free agent this offseason and his value as a returner could influence the Bears to keep him around.

Story originally appeared on Bears Wire