The Chicago Bears desperately need help on special teams.
Chicago surrendered 14.9 yards per return on 7 punts and 18.0 yards on two kickoffs in its first preseason game against the Miami Dolphins, and the return unit wasn’t much better. Wideout Jon’Vea Johnson muffed a punt the Bears managed to recover, and receiver Rodney Adams didn’t get beyond the 20-yard-line much when running the ball out of the end zone. The Bears didn’t re-sign All-Pro kickoff returner Cordarrelle Patterson this offseason, and with punt returner Tarik Cohen still on the physically-unable-to-perform list, their return unit has been difficult to watch.
To their credit, though, the Bears are looking. According to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune, Chicago brought in former Houston Texans wide receiver Isaiah Coulter for a workout. Biggs also noted Chicago was likely going to see if Coulter might be able to to help Chicago’s return game.
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Coulter Has Speed, Little NFL Experience
Coulter was drafted in the fifth round (171st overall) by the Texans last year, but he only saw the field once, which, coincidentally, was in the Texans’ Week 11 loss to the Bears. A neck injury sustained in training camp kept him out for the bulk of the season, and Houston released him on August 16 of this year.
The 6-foot-1, 198-pound Coulter brings speed to the table, which is something head coach Matt Nagy values a great deal. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.45 seconds at the scouting combine, which is an attractive trait in a returner, and was something both Cohen and Patterson brought to the return game. He spent three years playing wideout at Rhode Island, and he had 72 catches for 1,039 yards and eight touchdowns in his junior season, which was his best statistically. He declared for the draft after that year, in 2019.
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Coulter Doesn’t Have Much Special Teams Experience, But He Could Develop
Coulter doesn’t have much experience in the return game, but his speed coupled with his raw traits make him an intriguing option.
Here’s what draft analyst Lance Zierlein of NFL.com had to say about Coulter heading into the draft:
Raw but talented X receiver with NFL-caliber length, speed and athletic ability. He runs a limited route tree and doesn’t show enough attention to detail in his route work, but he’s loose and fluid with the ability to get that area corrected. He lets coverage off the hook when he doesn’t burst and separate like he’s capable of, but he has access to plenty of juice when needed. While improvement should be expected, learning to play with better catch aggression and ball-tracking is not a given. Coulter is an explosive, high-upside talent with functional-starter upside, but a lower floor.
That burst Zierlein mentioned could serve him well as a returner, and for what it’s worth, Coulter also said in April 2020 that he would be willing to play a role on defensive special teams if his team needed him to — and since Patterson is one of the best gunners in the game — Chicago may need him to do just that.
“I’m hungry, eager to just learn. I just want to help any way I can, whether that’s on special teams or a role in the receiving room. I’m just trying to help those guys out and help them get to where they want to be at,” Coulter said last year.
Let’s be clear — there’s no replacing Patterson, who is a four-time All-Pro and an incredible athletic talent. But Coulter’s speed could really help Chicago both in the return game and on defensive special teams, provided his workout went well.