LAKE FOREST – When the Miami Dolphins visited Lake Forest for two days of joint practices in August, former Dolphins return specialist Jakeem Grant had a chance to get to know some of the Bears. He developed a friendly relationship with Bears special teams coordinator Chris Tabor.
Almost too friendly, it seemed.
“I talked to the special teams coach, and I talked to a lot of guys around here, and they said they loved me,” Grant said. “So it kind of – red flag went up. I was like, OK, it could be a potential coming back here.”
In retrospect, the Bears clearly liked what they saw in Grant. They traded a 2023 sixth-round draft pick to Miami in exchange for Grant this week. The newest member of the Bears is hard at work learning his playbook and preparing to make his Bears debut.
Tabor said he’s always studying his opponents, whether it’s a joint practice or pregame warmups.
“It’s like any job,” Tabor said. “Jobs are built on relationships and those types of things. Even when we’re in pregame watching the other team, I like to watch the other team warm up, watch guys’ movement skills and those types of things.”
Grant comes to Chicago after five full seasons and change in Miami. The Dolphins drafted him in the sixth round of the 2016 draft. He served as both a receiver and a return specialist in Miami, although his usage on offense dipped this season.
He grew up in Texas, played at Texas Tech and spent his entire NFL career in Miami. The Chicago winter is going to take some getting used to. Grant said he doesn’t know much about Chicago, except for one name.
“Nothing besides Devin Hester,” Grant said. “Just knowing that he left an absolutely great mark here and being a great returner, so I know I have some big shoes to fill up.”
Grant seems likely to take over both punt return and kick return duties. Receiver Nsimba Webster had been returning punts for the Bears, but he was waived to make room for Grant. Webster has since been signed to the practice squad.
Rookie running back Khalil Herbert had been handling kick return duties. With the injury to David Montgomery, Herbert could see more time at running back in the coming weeks. That likely leaves an opening on kick return for Grant.
For his career, Grant is averaging 24.3 yards with two touchdowns on 89 career kick returns. He has returned 101 punts for an average of 9.7 yards a return with three touchdowns.
Although slight of frame at 5-foot-7, 172 pounds, Grant, 28, brings speed to the field. Coming out of Texas Tech in 2016, he ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash at his pro day.
“I’ve played against him multiple times,” Tabor said. “He’s a guy that obviously has speed, first-step quickness, can make you miss. Can use all field zones, whether it’s the boundary, the middle or take them to the field. So, he kind of opens some things up in that area.”
Grant is confident he can learn the Bears’ playbook in a hurry. He said special teams isn’t really a problem because his assignments are usually as simple as “run right, run left or run in the middle.”
He believes he can carve out a role for himself as a slot receiver, too. Last year in Miami, Grant caught 36 passes for 373 yards and a touchdown. It was his most productive season on offense. So far in 2021, he has just two catches for negative yardage.
“I felt like I wasn’t getting opportunities [in Miami],” Grant said. “And the trade, I look at it as another opportunity. More opportunities for me to get out there, especially on the offensive side.”
It’s unclear if the Bears will give him a real chance to compete on offense. After they brought in Webster as a return specialist, Webster didn’t see a single snap on offense through the first four weeks.
Grant might be the only Bears player who has experience playing in Allegiant Stadium, where the Bears will take on the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday. As a Dolphin, Grant visited Allegiant Stadium just two weeks ago.