Why Bears' wide receiver competition could be impacted by special teams

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Why special teams could be pivotal in determining Bears' WR comp originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

LAKE FOREST – After Darnell Mooney, the Bears' wide-receiver depth chart is a who's who of guys trying to scratch and claw their way to NFL stability.

Mooney is the Bears' unquestioned No. 1 receiver. He has been walking and talking like it all offseason as his connection with quarterback Justin Fields continues to grow.

But after Mooney, the Bears' receiver picture is murky.

Byron Pringle, Velus Jones Jr., and Equanimeous St. Brown are likely roster locks. N'Keal Harry also has a good shot at making the 53-man roster, given the low-risk bet Ryan Poles made when acquiring him.
But as the Bears' island of unheralded receivers jockeys for position in camp, their future could be determined not by what they do on offense but what they bring to a different phase of the game.

Special teams.

"I think that we have a lot of wideouts in the room that have special teams experience and that are working really hard, and I think those guys know, I mean, we all know that Mooney's catching balls," special teams coordinator Richard Hightower said Tuesday. "He's not playing special teams. So those other ones, you know, they got to understand, and they do understand, that they're here for that and they're working hard.

"It's a fierce competition right now, which is what you love about the way this organization has come together and the way these guys are playing and competing for spots. I mean, it's competitive, and I like it a lot."

After six practices, I'd say Dazz Newsome and Dante Pettis are jockeying for the sixth wide receiver spot after the aforementioned five. But that could easily change if a receiver starts to gel with Fields or becomes a key special teams contributor.

Several receivers have been involved in punt and kick-off return drills early in camp, and a battle is brewing on Hightower's unit.

Jones and Pringle have returned kicks, along with Chris Finke, running back Khalil Herbert, and safety Eddie Jackson. Sixth-round rookie Trestan Ebner is expected to get reps as well.

Hightower has a hierarchy regarding the return man competition, but he's not going to reveal it just yet. That battle will take time to sort out.

"But the thing about that is it will separate itself," Hightower said. "The players will tell you. You'll learn that not only in practice, but you'll see it in preseason who separates themselves. I'm not handing out any jobs. I'm letting guys compete."

With very few jobs secured, Bears training camp will be all about competition as guys fight for roster spots, starting jobs, and perhaps a place in the team's long-term future.

For the Bears' wide receivers battling for their NFL lives, their best chance to claim one of the final roster spots is simple: be special.

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