The Bears have a new punt returner. GM Ryan Poles announced on Wednesday that the team is in the process of signing wide receiver/return specialist Trent Taylor, and that Taylor will be the new starting punt returner when he’s officially in the fold.
The Bengals cut Taylor on Tuesday as they trimmed down to their 53-man roster, and the biggest reason the Bears decided to bring him in was his consistency as a return man.
“You know when the ball gets punted you can go grab a snack and go to the bathroom and come back and you feel confident about it,” Poles said.
Taylor is a five-year veteran with stints in Cincinnati and San Francisco. Poles said special teams coordinator Richard Hightower’s familiarity with Taylor from their time together with the 49ers played a role in the signing. Taylor’s returned 89 punts over his career, with a 9.7 yards per return average. Last year, Velus Jones Jr. averaged 7 y/r and Dante Pettis had a 9.1 y/r average. That was a big jump from Pettis’ career 3.2 y/r average before he came to Chicago.
The Bears placed Pettis on season-ending IR earlier this year, so he’s been out of the competition. Tyler Scott emerged as a player in the competition later in the summer and took the majority of the punt return reps in the preseason finale. But Scott is new to punt returns and clearly didn’t show enough to make the team confident naming him the primary returner just yet. Jones Jr. muffed a punt in the preseason, which brought back bad memories of his two muffed punts from last season. After the game, Hightower said Jones Jr. wasn’t working with a shorter leash, but Jones Jr. got hurt shortly afterwards and never returned to the field to prove he could work through the mistakes.
Poles made sure to say that just because they’re taking Jones Jr. off punts now, they’re not going to give him an opportunity to win the job again somewhere down the road.
“We've gotta get Velus comfortable in that position,” Poles said. “We're going to continue to work on those guys and get them experience and try to get that confidence back that he had in college and before. So having some of the issues that he's had, that's a tough thing. You gotta work back through it. And he's had some weird looks too. So we still believe in him.”
Poles said the team wants to develop Scott more as a punt returner, too. But for now, the Bears are ready to rock with Taylor as their guy.