Hub Arkush’s 2022 Bears training camp preview: Special teams

Chicago Bears kicker Cairo Santos kicks a field goal against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Minneapolis.

Welcome to the 12th of our 12-part series as we get you ready for Bears Training Camp 2022 by looking at each position group on the depth chart, special teams and the new coaching staff.

We’ll bring you brief scouting reports with pluses and minuses for every notable player, how each group stacks up against the rest of the NFL, projected potential surprises and disappointments, the final 53-man roster and likely practice squad keepers.

Part 12 – Special teams

The placekicking should be in good hands, and there are a number of interesting options in the return game.

Punting is an unknown right now with seventh-round pick Trenton Gill as the only punter on the roster.

New special teams coordinator Richard Hightower is experienced and well thought of around the league, but most of the top coverage guys from last year are gone.

Cairo Santos

Santos has been money in his second go-around with the Bears, converting 56 of 62 field goal attempts and kicking in all 33 games over the past two seasons. He is 63 for 65 on extra points.

During that stretch, he made 40 consecutive field goal attempts, tying Gary Anderson for the third most in NFL history behind Adam Vinatieri (44) and Mike Vanderjagt (42) with all three of the others doing at least half their kicking indoors at home.

Biggest plus: Santos is one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history, hitting 154 of 174 field goal attempts inside the 50-yard line.

Biggest concern: He lacks range, attempting only 22 kicks outside the 50 over eight seasons and converting only 10.

Trenton Gill

The Bears made Gill the 255th pick and the fourth of four punters drafted this year. He will replace free agent Patrick O’Donnell, who wasn’t re-signed mostly as a salary cap move.

Gill was a walk-on and three-year starter at North Carolina State.

Biggest plus: Gill (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) has great size and traits.

Biggest concern: His leg isn’t as strong yet as you’d expect, and directional kicking needs work.

Patrick Scales

A seven-year vet, Scales has made every long snap for the Bears in 81 straight games since he became the full-time snapper in 2016.

Biggest plus: When was the last time the Bears had a bad snap on a kick or punt?

Biggest concern: At only 6-3, 230 pounds, he can be overpowered, although it hasn’t been a problem yet.

Velus Jones Jr.

The Bears’ third-round pick this year, Jones clearly was overdrafted as a wide receiver based on his college production, but he tied for SEC Special Teams Player of the Year last season on the strength of a 27.3-yard average on 23 kick returns and a 15.1-yard average on 18 punt returns.

Biggest plus: Jones has elite speed (4.31 in the 40). He is an attacking runner and fearless with the ball in his hands.

Biggest concern: He is somewhat inexperienced fielding and returning punts. He did it in games for the first time last season at Tennessee.

Khalil Herbert

Herbert is a solid No. 2 running back who appears to lack the traits of a great returner, but he had a nice rookie season. He returned 27 kickoffs for a 24.1-yard average.

Biggest plus: He’s decisive and hits seams fast.

Biggest concern: Herbert lacks home-run speed.

Dazz Newsome

Newsome rarely saw the field last year as a rookie. He did return six punts for a 12.5-yard average with a long of 28, and the punt return job clearly is up for grabs.

Biggest plus: Great short-area quickness and change of direction.

Biggest concern: May not have enough as a receiver to make the 53-man roster.

Nsimba Webster

Webster is a special-teams warrior who can do it all and is solid in coverage but not special on returns.

Biggest plus: Special-teams attitude and hustle are all here.

Biggest concern: Was given a chance to be Raiders primary returner in 2020 and failed to impress.

Trestan Ebner

This year’s 25th pick in the sixth round, Ebner was the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year in 2020 and 2021, making that his most likely ticket to the final 53.

The skinny

Where they fit in NFL: If Gill is only league average, they should be top half of the league but not necessarily “special.”

Potential: The comps we get on Jones Jr. are Cordarrelle Patterson, which could make these teams great.

Surprises: Jones Jr. and Gill are in fact “all that,” and Bears special teams are top five.

Disappointments: With so much hope invested in rookies, this could be a trouble spot all season long.

Outcome: Santos and Scales are fine, Bears bring in competition for Gill in camp, and the return game and coverage units prove to be solid with so many youngsters competing for roster spots.

In case you missed it: Previous installments of our 2022 season preview series

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush is the Senior Bears Analyst for Shaw Local News Network and